Virtually all events around the state have been impacted by the precautions being taken regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Below is Connecticut Magazine's article as it appeared in the April 2020 issue, which went to press just before widespread precautions were announced. Please check with the venues for updated information.
There’s something about Florida that fascinates playwright Lindsey Ferrentino. It’s the setting of her play, Ugly Lies the Bone, which plays April 22 to May 10 at West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park. (UPDATE 3/22: This show has been cancelled.) “I also have an outsider’s eye for it,” she says, explaining that though she’s lived there much of her life, she also has the perspective of someone who has lived in other places, too, including her stint in Connecticut while at the Yale School of Drama.
“Florida is a map of contradictions. It’s full of people from other places. It splits extremely politically. There are Trump signs right next to Hillary ones. It’s a place where people value their down time and their time outside because it’s so physically pretty.”
But it can be downright surreal, too, she says. “I grew up with rocket launches and Disney World an hour away from where I lived. Florida is a place that claims to have the fountain of youth, and indeed there’s something magical about it. I love the idea of tourism and people going on ‘the vacation of a lifetime’ — and the pressure of what that means. I also love tacky things.”
Ferrentino’s plays — including Amy and the Orphans, This Flat Earth, Kokomo — have dealt with serious subjects and included the first leading role for a person with Down syndrome. The New York Times called her “a brave playwright of dauntless conviction whose unflinching portraits are hard to come by outside of journalism.”
For the best Connecticut Magazine content, plus the week's most compelling news and entertainment picks, delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly newsletter.
In Ugly Lies the Bone, her leading female character returns to her home in the Space Coast area of Florida after three tours of military service in Afghanistan. She’s dealing with her traumatic experiences, including scarring on much of her body from an IED blast, and how life has changed at home.
Ferrentino’s new play, Years to Come, will play off-Broadway in the fall. She is also adapting the screenplay for the film Not Fade Away, starring Emily Blunt.
Love at first sight
Note: As of March 24, the Goodspeed has posted the following message on their website: "South Pacific is scheduled to begin on April 17. It is clear that we will not be able to open on time. However, given the ever-changing guidelines from federal and state agencies, we are not certain how long we will need to delay the show. As soon as we have determined when it is safe to open the show, we will contact all ticketholders and make arrangements for you to exchange tickets into a future performance."
In South Pacific, the two leading romantic characters — Emile de Becque and Nellie Forbush — sing “Some Enchanted Evening” and fall in love immediately as they croon about gazing upon “a stranger across a crowded room.”
Since the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical is opening the 2020 season at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam — running April 17 to June 28 — I thought I’d ask Branch Fields, who plays the suave romantic Frenchman, if he believes in love at first sight. After all, he’s played de Becque in numerous productions, including as one of the standbys in the Lincoln Center Theater run 10 years ago. “I definitely believe in the power of attraction,” Fields says from his home in Williamsburg, Virginia. “But love at first sight? I would say that, being 51 now, I’m a little wiser than that.”
Rob Ruggiero, who’s directed some of Goodspeed’s best productions such as Carousel, Show Boat and 1776, is staging South Pacific.
Chemistry between actors is key in making the romance on stage work for an audience. Among the half-dozen or so actresses Ruggiero has worked with, “I’ve had some great Nellies,” he says, among them Chilina Kennedy.
A leading bass in the opera world, Fields has also played the role at the Utah Festival Opera, the Huron Country Playhouse, the Musical Theatre Piedmont Opera and the Ogunquit Playhouse. Is he a romantic person? “Yes, I am,” he says, laughing. “I like to write love letters. The power of the written word is important to me. I’m also such a sucker for chick flicks, too. And I bake.”
Not so easy bake
Speaking of baking, Denny Dillon admits that she can’t “cook or bake a lick,” which is why she had special instruction from a professional competitive baker in preparing for Bekah Brunstetter’s The Cake at TheaterWorks Hartford, playing April 5 to May 10. (Note: This performance has been postponed.) “But I love to eat what they make,” she says, laughing.
The actress was nominated for a Tony Award for My One and Only, played the abusive-yet-loyal assistant in HBO’s early comedy series Dream On, spent a season on Saturday Night Live, and famously asked John Travolta to dance in Saturday Night Fever.
For TheaterWorks’ production of the off-Broadway play The Cake, which it is co-producing with St. Louis Rep, Dillon plays Della, whose North Carolina bakery is legendary. But all is not sweet there. She’s been asked by her goddaughter to create a cake for her upcoming nuptials to a woman, which challenges Della’s religious beliefs, her marriage and her relationships.
“She’s not a cliche and she’s troubled by her prejudices,” says Dillon, who also starred in plays at Hartford Stage about 15 years ago. “She is such a rich and complicated character.”
Dillon is also in an upcoming Halle Berry film, Bruised, in which she plays Crazy Esther, and she also recently did an episode of HBO’s The Outsider. “It’s a Stephen King show and I’m Jack’s mother who’s comes back from the dead. I’m very evil.”
Have you heard …?
… Connecticut is losing three major theater execs this year: Michael Gennaro is exiting Goodspeed Musicals after five years at the helm; John Fisher is retiring after 20 years at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre; and Preston Whiteway is leaving the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Waterford after nearly two decades. (Whiteway will also receive the prestigious Monte Cristo Award at the center’s annual gala in New York City on April 19.) The leadership exits make for a seismic change in the theater landscape in the state, especially following last year’s arrival of two new artistic directors and managing directors at Long Wharf Theatre and Hartford Stage.