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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

‘Seasons Readings’ a Stocking Full of Surprises

‘Seasons Readings’ a Stocking Full of Surprises:
Dec. 16 Westport Woman’s Club show plays to full house
(Appeared in Westport News 12/22)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Westport, CT – It was not the usual holiday theatrical fare and that was quite alright with the full house of people that had gathered Thursday night Dec. 16 at the Westport Woman’s Club.

The attraction was “Seasons Readings”, holiday-themed, whimsical short plays and stories read by a quintet of professional actors under the direction of Carole Schweid. a principal of JIB Productions. For many years, JIB has produced a popular “Play With Your Food” lunchtime series of performances. This new production was a chance to “offer audiences fresh and provocative holiday-oriented material and in the evening,” according to JIB co-principal Nancy Diamond.

The featured actors came to the informal Woman’s Club stage with impressive resumes. Alison Cimet has appeared on Broadway in “A Tale of Two Cities”, local theater and numerous TV commercials. Tom Zingarelli is a veteran actor, director and producer of 35 years who may be best known as the star of the “Tall Tales” video series for children about American folk heroes. Susan Terry has appeared in Broadway shows “Evita” and “City of Angels”, Off-Broadway, opera and in PBS TV productions. Chris Cafero has been featured in films, TV soaps and local theater. Joanna Keylock has made a splash in film, webisodes, local theater and Off-Broadway.

While the quintet’s talent made the vignettes come alive, it was Schweid’s skill in selecting just the right offbeat fare to feature that drove the production. “You do a lot of reading through an enormous amount of stuff,” said Schweid. “Things pop out and grab you. You say, ‘I love it, others probably will, too.’ There’s all this great material that people don’t normally hear. I think, cool, let’s get a little Tuna Christmas in here.”

Schweid’s reference, formally “A Tuna Christmas”, is a comedic play set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, and was first up among the readings in the high-ceilinged, festively decorated Club hall. The readers effected thick Texas accents, played up stereotypes and gave a glimpse at what an over-the-top holiday might be like Lone Star style.

Next in the program, “The Loudest Voice”, written by Grace Paley and performed quite amusingly by Terry, conveyed the experience of a Jewish girl named Shirley Abramowitz, who is put in the awkward position of having to narrate her school’s Christmas pageant.

“On the Bridge”, performed chiefly by Cafero and written by Frederick Stroppel, who was in attendance, told the tale of a chance encounter by a man and woman on a bridge on Christmas Eve. Both are down on their luck and depressed and seeking to end it all by jumping. The story was touching and provided a happy, heart-felt twist at the end.

Full of hilarity, “Christmas in Flatbush”, penned by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning writer Wendy Wasserstein, offered the sentimental recollection of her first Christmas at Mount Holyoke College.

The concluding number was a piece by William Lederer titled “A Christmas Ballad for the Captain”. Lederer was a career naval officer so it was not surprising that his work paid tribute to the kindness of a wartime leader at Christmastime.

A chorus of “Silent Night” tied a neat bow around the evening’s performances and ushered the audience into an adjacent room for pastries and eggnog provided by The Pantry of Fairfield. There, audience members, producers, writers and cast alike mingled and shared their thoughts on the production.

“I liked how Carole put different styles and pieces together. There were lots of angles… Judaism, Christianity,” said cast member Cimet. “There was enough variety to speak to everyone.” Her associate Terry agreed, saying, “There was a wonderful potpourri of different views of the holidays. I saw a lot of smiling faces in the audience.”

Audience members were united in their appreciation. “I thought it was fabulous, great Christmas spirit, wonderful acting,” said Susanne Addessi of Westport. Friend Jeanette Linsey added, “The selection was great, very diverse. They mixed it up really well.”

Maxine Paul of Weston was particularly impressed. “I saw four Broadway shows in the last four weeks and enjoyed these pieces more than them. Every time I come here it’s remarkable.”


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