Reasons to be Proud -- or Not
I’m Connecticut Pays Comic Tribute to Constitution State

By Amy J. Barry

For a production built around our state’s so-called lack of excitement and personality, I’m Connecticut at the Ivoryton Playhouse is filled with both.

The quirky comedy is written by Mike Reiss, Emmy award-winning writer and producer of The Simpsons. It’s adeptly directed by Playhouse artistic director Jacqueline Hubbard, who brings the light-on-plot, gag line-filled production together in a cohesive, funny, fast-moving lampoon of the place we call home -- and it’s an easier pill to swallow knowing that Reiss is also making fun of himself. A Connecticut-born Jew, transplanted to Manhattan, he has much in common with Marc, the play’s main character.

Harris Doran is terrific as the self-conscious nerdy young neuroscientist on a speed-dating quest to find a woman who will find anything interesting about him, blaming his state of origin, rather than his family of origin, for defining his very lackluster being. Doran played Marc in the comedy’s 2011 premiere at Connecticut Repertory Theatre and his comfort in the role shines through.

Gwen Hollander plays Diane, Marc’s love interest, a receptionist at the speed dating office. Hollander is charming as the sweet but flighty Georgia girl in the big city. Marc brings her home to meet his sage of a Jewish grandfather, performed with great style and aplomb by veteran actor Jerry Adler -- an original cast member of the HBO hit The Soprano’s. Grampa is described as being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s to serve the plotline -- although he’s really just a tad forgetful. Diane misinterprets something she observes about him, which Marc doesn’t deny it in order to win her sympathies. I will leave it at that so as not to spoil the one major plot twist in the play. Suffice to say that Marc’s quest to win Diane back, after she discovers the truth, is the major focus of the second act.

Marc’s Bostonian co-worker Kyle, played with deadpan humor by Gino Costabile, makes fun of Connecticut’s nondescript accent and lack of regional colloquialisms: even a milkshake is a milkshake in Connecticut, while it’s a classier frappe in Boston. After Kyle points out that the most boring people are from the rectangle-shaped states like Connecticut, in one of the funniest of many laugh-out-loud scenes, a host of characters come out on stage wearing cardboard cutouts of their states…some, like Florida, are more “well-endowed” than Connecticut and even rural New Hampshire and Vermont are more intriguing than we are as a country bumpkin gay couple.

After picking on Hartford for having no claim to fame besides insurance, Mark Twain, (Norm Ruddy is a dead ringer) suddenly appears, but even the eloquent wordsmith can’t find anything scintillating to say about his birthplace.

Reiss even localizes the script to poke fun at Ivoryton’s lack of elephants or ivory.

Cast members also worthy of mention for their strong performances are Rebecca Hoodwin as Diane’s feisty mother, who falls for Grampa; Bill Mootos as the cynical manager of the dating service; and in the dating database, Dene Hill as “Black Woman” and Elizabeth Talbot as “Sexy Woman.”

The lively ensemble has some first-rate young local talent, which comes together in a big musical finale -- especially funny, since the show isn’t a musical.

Although Reiss is an equal opportunity offender with who and what he targets with his satire, the script could lose the predictable jokes about cheap Jews for more nuanced humor -- they’re just not that funny.

The simple set is enriched and kept within budget with a variety of well-chosen projections, thanks to Daniel Nischan’s scenic design and Marcus Abbott’s lighting. Costume designer Kari Crowther provides Marc’s appropriately bland beige outfit, while punctuating the rest of the cast with more color and style.

I’m Connecticut runs through June 23 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street in Ivoryton. For tickets and times, call the box office at 860-767-7318 or online www.ivorytonplayhouse.org

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies and online Zip06.com and theday.com.



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