Thanksgiving is coming, and Connecticut theaters are holding food drives. Hartford Stage's "Tiny Tim's Holiday Food Drive" runs Nov. 17 through Dec. 30. The drive is named for the cute poverty-stricken waif in "A Christmas Carol." Hartford Stage's annual production of that enduring classic opens Nov. 25. "Tiny Tim's Holiday Food Drive" benefits Hands on Hartford's MANNA Community Pantry and Backpack Nutrition Program. Canned goods, boxes of cereal, bags of rice and other non-perishable goods can be dropped off at the Hartford Stage lobby on "Christmas Carol" performance days, or at the theater's box office during regular business hours. Details at handsonhartford.org.
Goodspeed Musicals' annual food drive comes with a "special performance" deal: Bring a "generous donation of non-perishable foods" to the 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21 or 6:30 p.m. Nov. 27 performance of "Chasing Rainbows — The Road to Oz" and tickets are buy one, get one free. The food goes to the East Haddam Food Bank. You can also just bring donations to the theater between Nov. 21 and 27. Details at goodspeed.org.
Another Thanksgiving reference: Connecticut Repertory Theatre has cast "An Absolute Turkey." The play, running Dec. 1 to 10, is a modern adaptation (by the great British director Peter Hall and his wife Nicki Frei) of "Le Dindon" by the eminent French farceur Georges Feydeau (1862-1921). The two lead players are Brooks Brantly as Redillon and John Leonard Thompson as Gerome.
Brantly attended UConn where he appeared in a different Feydeau farce, "A Flea in Her Ear." Among his other shows at UConn : "The Exonerated," "Urinetown," "The Who's Tommy" and the title role in "Othello." Brantly was also in two national tours of "The War Horse."
Thompson was in the 2007 New York production of "Butley" and national tours of "Angels in America" and "The Graduate." He was at Hartford Stage in 2013 for "Abundance" and at TheaterWorks in 2008 as Boolie in "Driving Miss Daisy."
The UConn MFA acting students in the production are Bryce Wood (as Pontagnac), Jeff DeSisto (Vatelin) and Natalia Cuevas (Lucienne), Michael Bobenhausen, Arlene Bozich, Darren Brown, Curtis Longfellow, Emile Saba and Meredith Saran. BFA actors in the show are Mikaila Baca-Dorion, Shavana Clarke, Kent Coleman, Sarah Jensen, Carly Polistina, Scott Redmond, Jenn Sapozhnikov and Ben Senkowski, plus there's a BA Theatre Studies student, Max Helfand.
That's 18 characters for 15 roles plus sundry hotel guests and policemen. A fully stocked farce.
Hartford Stage will be holding its Winter Youth Studio classes again in early 2017. Classes include "Pretend Together" for ages 3 to 5; "Musical Theatre Cabaret Jr.," "Disney's The Aristocats Kids" and "Creative Drama: Under the Sea Exploration" all for ages 5 to 8; and "Acting for the Camera" and "Twain's Tales" for students over 9; "Scene Study: At the Movies!" for ages 9 to 12; "One-Act Play" for ages 9 to 14; and "Monologue Building" for ages 12 to 17. Private acting and voice lessons for children 9 and up available. Details at hartfordstage.org.
For those who'd found certain political events of early November unsettling, the dance spectacle "Carefree — Dancin' With Fred & Ginger" at the Garde Arts Center in New London on Nov. 12 seemed to invite distraction. Astaire and Rogers, it's said, helped people forget the Great Depression.
If only the show's lead female dancer, Hayley Podschun, didn't have a smile and haircut that eerily evoked Hillary Clinton. If only Podschun's dance partner, the tap-happy Jared Grimes, didn't vaguely resemble Barack Obama in his state-dinner black tie and tails. If only Grimes didn't croon the Gershwin tune "Slap That Bass," which begins:
Zoom zoom zoom zoom / World is in a mess / Politics and taxes and people grinding axes / There's no happiness.
Same with the national tour of "Cinderella" at the Shubert in New Haven Nov. 11 to 13. The overhaul of the show's book by comic playwright Douglas Carter Beane adds a new political-activist character who is trying to hip an unwitting prince to evictions and other injustices being perpetrated by the monarch's land-grabbing lieutenant.
I could have used some, but I have learned never to expect sheer escapism. Theater long ago ceded its responsibility for utterly mindless fun to other media such as blockbuster movies and music videos. Even the comic capers of "Unnecessary Farce" at Playhouse on Park in West Haven involves embezzlement, police corruption and talk of immigrant criminals. (In this case, they're from Scotland.)
Gordon Edelstein, the artistic director of the Long Wharf Theatre, has told me that the decision to stage Jerry Sterner's comic drama "Other People's Money" (opening Nov. 23) was partly inspired by Donald Trump. The show's title is a phrase Trump used recently on the campaign trail. The play is from the late '80s, but "contemporary relevance" has become the watchword of the American regional theater — I hear it from everyone associated with the August Wilson revivals at Hartford Stage and Yale Rep.
So don't escape. Embrace. Explore. Debate. Deal. Sort out your feelings through exposure to different perspectives, affirmations, passions, styles and insights. Getting out will do you good. Feeling that I was seeing Clinton and Obama dance one last time meant more than ignoring them would have.
Lin-Manuel Miranda Update
"Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda appeared on a couple of podcasts this week. On the inaugural episode of TodayTix's new interview show "Broadway Backstory," he discusses the genesis of his first Broadway show "In the Heights," which he developed at Wesleyan University and at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford. On the 759th episode of the one of the finest podcasts there is, "WTF With Mark Maron," Miranda has more Wesleyan memories, such as passing his driver's test a day before he started school. "Trying to make musical theater happen," he declares, "was very hard at Wesleyan."
"The Hamilton Mixtape," a 23-track album featuring new versions of songs from the musical by the likes of The Roots (whose drummer Questlove produced both this album and "Hamilton"'s original Broadway soundtrack), Alicia Keys, Wiz Khalifa, Chance the Rapper and many others — of course including Lin-Manuel Miranda himself — will be released Dec. 2. Several individual tracks have already been made available for sale before the full album comes out, among them Kelly Clarkson singing "It's Quiet Uptown" and Sia, Miguel and Queen Latifah joining together for "Satisfied." Like a dream you can't quite place.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the dates for the Hartford Stage Holiday Food Drive.