'I'm Connecticut' - a not-so-funny title for a laugh-out-loud comedy in Ivoryton

By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

If you’re Connecticut-born, long-time resident, or summer visitor from the Big Apple, chances are you will love Emmy-award-winning, Bristol-born Mike Reiss’s comedy, “I’m Connecticut.” The play explores in the most delightful way what is perceived to be one of the most boring states in America.

Now playing through June 23 at the small but un-boring Ivoryton Playhouse, in the almost invisible hamlet of Ivoryton, Connecticut, Mike’s comedy has lots of shtick, one-liners, and in-jokes that even people from Oklahoma will identify with in a New York nano second. In fact, it’s pure corn, but every kernel is golden.

Jacqueline Hubbard masterfully directs this 21st-century comedy that will hopefully draw the television-only generations into the theater. No-laugh tracks needed here because of the truly rib-tickling sight gags and keep-em-coming jokey lines written by a bright, natural-born wit and delivered by some fine comedic actors.

Take, for instance, Harris Doran as Marc -- please. In his portrayal of Mike Reiss’ shy, engaging alter-ego, he successfully uses direct address to bring the audience into the story. It’s a smart acting technique, and Harris expertly takes us along on Marc’s quest of looking for love in all the funniest places.

Marc’s grandfather, wise and sage, as all Jewish grandpas are meant to be, is winningly played by the great veteran actor Jerry Adler. His grandpa is a low-key character much like Mr. Adler’s memorable eight-year run as Tony Soprano’s lawyer Hesh, doling out smart advice: but here plays his character in a more kindly oy-vey way.

Marc blames Connecticut for many of his short-comings, one of which is visually and hilariously played out with the use of a precise cut out of the state worn about his neck. Gino Costabile plays Kyle, Marc’s best buddy from Massachusetts. Gino creates a spot-on characterization that comes close to stealing the show. And his accurate state map, as do all the others, has the audience rolling in the aisles. Benjamin Algar as ‘the state of Florida’ gets the most out of his character, proving there are no small parts. You simply have to see this over-the-top scene of visual humor to believe how it drove the audience into gales of laugher.

Gwen Hollander as Diane plays it sweetly as a southern belle in the big city who falls for Marc, and Rebecca Hoodwin as her mom surprises us at one point with her big Broadway singing voice. Bill Mootos, Diane’s smarmy manager, can also belt it out with the best of them. No, this is not a musical. You’ll need to buy tickets to understand this reference. And it will be money well spent.

The supporting cast overall does a fine job of making this very funny play move breezily and laughingly along to a big finish that brought down the house on opening night.
Daniel Nischan’s minimalistic scenic design is all that is needed to work with the effective back-of-the-stage projections. These brilliant images, both still and moving, were designed by Allison McGrath and Greg Purnell, who have re-mounted them from the world premiere of ‘I’m Connecticut’ at the Connecticut Repertory Theater at UCONN in Storrs.

Mike Reiss makes fun of many states, states of mind, and states of being -- not just Connecticut. He makes us laugh at nerds, jerks, Jews, gays, people from Georgia, Mark Twain and Brook Shields. He does all this without offending, which is no small feat during these times when everyone takes umbrage at everything that’s not, in their opinion, politically correct.

Mel Brooks once said, “Funny is money.” No, in fact he said it more than once. Mike Reiss also knows from funny. He knows from angst and low self-esteem -- the things that make being a nice Jewish boy from Connecticut a wonderfully silly reason to put on a show.

The laughter continues through June 23. Wednesdays: 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays: 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $40. Seniors, $35. Students, $20. Call 860-767-7318 or visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

We wouldn’t mind seeing it again, so you might find us sitting next to you some night, loudly laughing once more at the uproarious “I’m Connecticut.”

Written by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle
Published on Examiner.com on Tony Awards night, June 9, 2013



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