Gene Wilder, who died on Monday, had a strong theater career before becoming the cinematic embodiment of Willy Wonka, Leo Bloom, Frederick Frankenstein, Skip Donahue ("Stir Crazy") and Jim ("Blazing Saddles"). He was in the original Broadway cast of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and took over for Alan Arkin in the original Broadway production of the Murray Schisgal hit "Luv." He co-starred with Zero Mostel in a cool TV version of Ionesco's "Rhinoceros."
A longtime Stamford resident, Wilder appeared at Connecticut theaters late in his career. He starred in "Don't Make Me Laugh," an anthology of one-act comedies by Chekhov, Shaw and Feydeau at the Westport Country Playhouse in 2001, shortly after that theater reopened. From 2004 to 2014, he hosted an annual series at the Avon Theatre in Stamford called "Wilder's Picks," where he screened and discussed some of his own films.
Cabaret's First Three
The Yale Cabaret knows the first three shows of its 49th(!) season. This invaluable basement-level performance space is run by students at the Yale School of Drama, who use it for pet projects and daring experiments. The management team changes each school-year season; so can the type of programming. The Cabaret presents 10 shows a semester. Each show gets six performances in the course of a weekend. I've seen more than 300 plays there over the past three decades, and am partial to the 11 a.m. performances. This is one of the most exciting theaters in the state.
The co-artistic directors for the 2016-17 season are Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan and Davina Moss. The managing director is Steven Koernig. You can get food there: full dinners before the 8 p.m. performances (doors open 6:30 p.m.) or small plates and drinks for the late shows (Happy Hour starts 10 p.m.). The chef for many years has been Anna Belcher.
The first three shows:
Sept. 15-17: "Styx Songs," a collaboration among the Yale graduate schools of Music, Art and Architecture and, of course, Drama, directed and created by Lucie Dawkins. It's derived from classic writings about the mythical River Styx, by everyone from Ovid to Rabindranath Tagore to Ted Hughes to Dylan Thomas to current playwriting student Tori Sampson.
Sept. 22-24: "Revolt. She said. Revolt again." is a feminist verse drama by British writer Alice Birch. Described as "a darkly comic call to arms," it is directed by Jessica Rizzo.
Oct. 6-8: "Caught" is a cryptic multi-pronged musing on art, performance and communication by Chinese-American San Franciscan playwright Christopher Chen.
Details and ticket deals at 203-432-1566, yalecabaret.org.
'Incident' At NHTC
The New Haven Theater Company, which performs in the back room of an antique store, hasn't announced its 2016-17 season just yet, but has two special events coming up this month. On Sept. 17 at the Outer Space Ballroom in Hamden, the company is hosting its second annual Worst Song Ever contest, where performers interpret pop standards of questionable quality for amusement and prizes. From Sept. 29 through Oct. 1, NHTC is presenting a staged reading of Arthur Miller's 1964 psychological drama "Incident at Vichy," about the detainment and interrogation of a group of men in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The reading, directed by J. Kevin Smith, will feature all eight male NHTC company members, plus others. (The play has over 20 roles.) Details at newhaventheatercompany.com.
Next Year In Westport
The Westport Country Playhouse has announced its 2017 season. Since the WCP follows a spring-to-winter calendar rather than the school-year season most other theaters adhere to, the season doesn't start until the end of May. The five-show season begins May 30 through June 17 with Peter Shaffer's comedy of friendship, heritage and architecture "Lettice and Lovage." (Some of us remember the first stop on the national tour of the play, at New Haven's Shubert in 1992, which starred Julie Harris.)
The WCP should be commended for scheduling "Appropriate," a bleak squabbling-family drama by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, whose similarly acrimonious "War" was at the Yale Rep in 2014. I saw "Appropriate" at the Humana Festival in Kentucky in 2013 and, though it was hard going at times, it had an awesome Eugene O'Neill-level grandeur.
"Appropriate" will run Aug. 15-Sept. 2. It's followed by George Brant's "Grounded," Aug. 15 through Sept. 2. There have been a number of plays at Connecticut theater in recent years concerning women in the military. This one is about a female fighter pilot whose assignment changes to managing drone strikes.
"Sex With Strangers," Laura Eason's modern romance, which was staged a few months ago at TheaterWorks and remains one of the most-produced plays in the country, will be in Westport Sept. 26 through Oct. 14, 2017. The season will end Oct. 31 through Nov. 19, 2017, with Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Shakespeare is still a rarity for the Playhouse, despite artistic director Mark Lamos having established himself as one of the country's great Shakespeare directors back when he was running Hartford Stage decades ago. "Romeo and Juliet" is only the fourth Shakespeare play to be staged in the theater's 87 seasons.
Only two of the five shows in Westport's 2016-17 season have directors attached yet: associate artistic director david Kennedy is helming "Appropriate," and Lamos is, of course, doing the "Romeo and Juliet." Many theatergoers will recall Lamos' magnificent "Romeo and Juliet" at Hartford Stage in 1995, which starred Calista Flockhart, Robert Petkoff and Bill Camp. More WCP season details at 203-227-4177, westportplayhouse.org
CT In NYC
Some shows with Connecticut associations coming to New York City this fall: a new play by Julia Cho (whose work was warmly embraced a decade ago by Long Wharf) at Playwrights Horizon; former Yale School of Drama playwriting department chair Richard Nelson's latest sociopolitical entertainment at the Public Theater; the Goodspeed's stage version of "Holiday Inn" on Broadway, co-starring Corbin Bleu; Suzan-Lori Parks' "The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World," which had its world premiere at the Yale Rep in 1992, kicking off a Parks retrospective at the Signature Theatre; Anna Deavere Smith, who's brought several of her one-woman shows to Long Wharf, with her new one "Doing Time in Education" at Second Stage; the a cappella musical "In Transit," which had a workshop at the O'Neill Center in Waterford, at Circle in the Square; Yale grad Alex Timbers' production of Nick Kroll and John Mulaney's "Oh Hello" at the Lyceum; and a Broadway revival of "Falsettos" — the show that grew out of a 1991 Hartford Stage double-bill of "March of the Falsettos" and "Falsettoland" —at the Walter Kerr.