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A Well-Felt Role

When Nick LaMedica first played the lead character of the anxiety-ridden Jason in Robert Askins’ Hand to God, his co-star, Tyrone, would often steal scenes.

But LaMedica really couldn’t complain because he was the one manipulating Tyrone, a hand-rod, Elmo-like puppet and the dangerously irreverent character in the Christian Puppet Ministry.

“There’s no opportunity to blame your scene partner for letting you down,” he says of his dual duties, adding “from a technical point of view, it’s great because I can rehearse whenever I want.”

Now he’s returning to the role in a production that Tracy Brigden will return to again direct at Hartford’s TheaterWorks. The show runs July 20 to Aug. 19.

“It can be really confusing to be in two completely different states of mind at once,” LaMedica says of the acting challenge of playing alter egos. “Tyrone is just buried deep within Jason so it’s funny to be playing things that are simultaneously coming from different places but are part of the same person.”

Does he have his own inner Tyrone?

“Mine is getting closer and closer to the surface because of the various difficulties and frustrations of living in New York City. Just go on a walk through Times Square and you’ll get a sense of my Tyrone. There’s so much to marvel at but there are so many little things that prod you and poke you that unleashes the animal inside you.”

Is he ever jealous of his more outrageous co-star?

“Yeah. It’s weird when you read a review talking about Tyrone’s performance and you’re thinking, ‘It’s me. It’s me.’ ” theaterworkshartford.org

He Picks Pockets, Steals Scenes 

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Donald Corren remembers his first professional musical when, at the age of 10, his Uncle Ira took him to see a touring production of Oliver! in San Francisco, near his hometown of Stockton.

“Watching a bunch of young boys sing and dance and having a great time, it was my ‘I want to do that’ moment,” Corren says. He subsequently played the musical’s Artful Dodger in a high school production and now he has the lead as Fagin in Goodspeed Musical’s Oliver! which plays through Sept. 8.

“You have to love him,” he says of his rogue character that teaches a band of street kids to “pick a pocket or two.” “But Fagin in the [Charles Dickens] book is not particularly lovable.”

But in a musical, he says, the audience has to find something to like in a leading character. So does the actor.

“It’s his sense of humor,” Corren says, “and a sense that maybe he knows deep inside that he could be doing something better. You’ve got to touch that piece of heart in him because musicals are all about heart.”

And yes, he says, Uncle Ira will be there to see him in the starring role at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, coming full circle, after all these years. goodspeed.org 

The Jesus Question

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How do you play Jesus? Alex Prakken is faced with that question for the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar, which is the final show of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series. The production, directed by Terrence Mann, runs July 12-22 at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the UConn campus in Storrs.

“You try to play the man, not the god,” the New York-based actor says. “It’s often a role that is difficult to play [in films] because, from a historic and Biblical standpoint, Jesus is viewed as this very stoic creature. But in Superstar we see Jesus behind the scenes, so to speak, when the crowd isn’t watching.

“This show creates a very complicated picture of Jesus. It really puts him in a very vulnerable place, taking place three days before his death and follows him to the very end. He’s in a very human state. In front of the crowds he is this composed messenger of peace, but behind the scenes we see him slowly crumbling and see his fear of impending doom. It’s so fascinating to see him contemplate his death and see how he’s scared of it, feeling these normal human emotions. I want to portray someone who is strong in his resolution but perhaps slightly unsure if he’s actually doing the right thing or not.”

This is not Prakken’s first go-round as the prophet. He previously played the role in his high school production in St. Louis. “I recently watched a tape of that performance and I was making some … er … interesting choices.”

Is there something about him that makes him perfectly cast as Jesus?

“I think I got the role because I had the ‘scream belt’ [voice] down in high school,” he says, laughing. crt.uconn.edu

From Acting to Playwriting

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Enid Graham has plenty of acting credits, including Broadway’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, M. Butterfly and receiving a Tony Award nomination for Honour. (Connecticut audiences may remember her as one of the British ladies who escape their dreary lives in Enchanted April more than 15 years ago at Hartford Stage.)

But she’s also a playwright and part of the group of scribes developing new work at this year’s National Playwrights Conference from July 5-28 at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford. Her play Ruth, the story of a woman trying to start a new life in New York, receives a staged reading July 13-14 at 7:15 p.m. Mark Brokaw directs.

“It’s challenging to try to do something new that you haven’t done before,” she says from her home in New York. “It’s always a little scary to say to someone, ‘I wrote a play.’ But I think that getting to the O’Neill will help me personally to just feel confident as a writer.”

She remembers being at her kitchen table one morning this spring when she received an email saying she had been accepted at the conference. “I couldn’t believe what I saw. I had to drag my husband out off the shower to tell him.”

Now she can simply say she’s a playwright without hesitation.

“Everyone needs some kind of shorthand to let people know what they do in some sort of legitimate way. If you’re an actress, you can say, ‘I’m doing a play at Lincoln Center,’ and people think, ‘Oh, you’re really an actress.’ ”

She says being at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference gives her writing that same sort of legitimacy. “And hopefully people will take me seriously — and read my other plays, too.” theoneill.org

Have you heard … ?

… I’ll be having an on-stage conversation with The Simpsons writer-producer Mike Reiss at Hartford’s Mark Twain House on July 26. What’s it like to be in the Simpsons writers’ room? The Bristol native tells all — and what he doesn’t you can find in his new book, Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets and Outright Lies from a Lifetime of Writing for The Simpsons. For more info, go to marktwainhouse.org. Reiss will also speak at an event hosted by Humanists and Freethinkers of Fairfield County on July 9 at the Silver Star Diner in Norwalk. The free event begins with a social hour at 6 p.m., followed by the main program at 7. RSVP to hffc@optonline.net using the subject line “Reiss.” 


This article appeared in the July 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine. Did you like what you read? You can subscribe here.

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for the Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.