From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 418, A Review: “Mentors” (Backyard Theater Ensemble)

Staging “Mentors,” director Teresa Langston – “A Number,” “Barbeque,” “The Devils,” “Uncommon Women and Others” – crafts a work of artfully arranged intelligence that arms its audience with just the right amount of information, believability and artifice to make it catch fire, thrill, dance and excite. Directorially, she digs deep and like Palmer, accentuates the play’s inquisitive humanism, its engaged emotionalism and its abundant awareness with clear-cut measure, equality, intrigue and playful swottiness.

There’s lots of clever clogs here but Langston takes her time with it all, thus allowing the play to breathe, gesticulate and smolder without any form of rushness, calculation or let’s race to finish and drop an atomic bomb and shock the hell out of everyone. 

You’ll find none of that here.

Here, as in “A Number” and “Barbeque,” Langston, creative auteur that she is, allows “Mentors” to progress with united strains of directorial melody that is confident, assured and unleashed with steady, delicate, natural fluidity. Blocking is minimal as well it should be given the play’s conversational ingredients, properties, chemicals, compounds, dueling and theorizing.

To have actor’s continually moving about Evan Ev Seide’s lived-in, smartly designed atmospheric set (a small, framed poster of Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” musical immediately caught my eye) would derail the intimacy of the piece, its central playing ground and its rich concentration of wordplay. So, in staging it, Langston suffuses “Mentors” with minimal action and movement which works most advantageously throughout the play’s one-hour-and-twenty-five-minute allotted running time (including a 15-minute interval) and validates the accuracy, emotion and certainty of Palmer’s character study and its definitive proprietorship.

By Jim Ruocco (CT Critics Circle) / Monday, September 5, 2022

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 336, A Review: “Barbecue” (Hole in the Wall Theater)

“The richness of O’ Hara’s mind games, sloshing, plotting and verbal acidity is played out with targeted freshness and zippity boom by director Teresa Langston who amps up the heat, throws caution to the wind and flame broils fact vs. fiction with funny, recurring and insightful authenticity. Well aware of the playwright’s skills, darkness and deception, she dials up the hilarity with apt, well-timed and resourceful appropriation. Yes, she knows the big reveal. Yes, she knows what’s real and what isn’t. Yes, she knows how the play will end. But as interpreter and storyteller, she never lets on or gives anything away without O’Hara’s consent. Instead, she helms a solid portrait of familial dysfunction that keeps you guessing and guessing in between the trashy talk, the four-letter words, the bitching and the bickering, the nasty insults and the cruel jibes aimed and tossed freely into the faces of all ten characters.

Then, all of a sudden, it’s showtime for Langston, the company and the audience.

The bomb drops, the plot changes, the characters get spooked or unraveled and “Barbeque” moves forward in an entirely new direction you never once saw coming. You sit back thinking, “What the fuck just happened?” But with Langston at the helm fueling the production with the new ideas, concepts and tricks of the trade, as dictated by the playwright, you willingly go along for the ride. How it all ends is anybody’s guess.

As “Barbeque” evolves and continues, Langston smartly captures all the angst, satire, rage, ruthlessness and silliness of O’Hara’s playscript through well-positioned staging, movements and blocking techniques that complement the play’s excitement, charm, edge and curiosity. Here, as in “A Number,” which Langston staged earlier this year at Hole in the Wall for Backyard Theater Ensemble, she paints an honest, immersive theatrical experience that is grounded, gripping and always alert. The mix of energies onstage adds to the overall excitement as does her embracement of the HITW theatrical space, its design team and its one-on one connection between actor and audience.”

By Jim Ruocco (CT Critics Circle) / Monday, September 5, 2022

Risk-taking theater Hole in the Wall is hosting a wild but dark family ‘Barbecue’

“This week, Hole in the Wall is offering the state’s first production of Robert O’Hara’s “Barbecue.” It’s a disarming, disorienting and swear-filled family drama, written with several shifting social perspectives. Describing it in detail might give away its unexpected twists and turns, but audiences should brace themselves for some loud arguments and harsh truths.”

By Christopher Arnott / Hartford Courant / Aug 19, 2022 at 6:00 am

“I was looking for pieces that were written for everyone. When I read this, I couldn’t put it down. It had me from the very beginning. We’re trying to be more diverse at Hole in the Wall, and this has diversity of race, generations, orientations. And it’s a satire, which we don’t often do. It’s dark but also very uproariously funny and completely unpredictable. There isn’t a thing in this show that’s not surprising. It doesn’t fit in an easy category. It doesn’t follow the normal rules of theater, except I guess that it has an intermission.”

-director: Teresa Langston

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 305, A Review: “A Number” (Backyard Theater Ensemble)

“The challenge of shaping a two-character play with five distinct, plot-advancing scene changes is one that director Teresa Langston addresses with an open-minded awareness that is awash with apparent payoff. Here, she favors clarity, fluidity and intensity – three driving factors that complement Churchill’s clever playscript and the very different acting styles and choices – cohesive, determined, edgy – of her two lead performers. Not one to resort to unnecessary staging techniques that would detract from the dialogue or story progression, she keeps things simple without any form of cliche or overkill. In turn, “A Number’s” involved verbatim and distilled storytelling is eye-opening, generous and throbbing with immersive messaging, judgements, commitments, curves, quibbles, platforms and opportunities.

As interpreter, she displays a fondness for the inventive quirkiness on display, allowing the characters to say what’s exactly on their minds, interact seamlessly with one another and moreover, keep the chore-heavy ping pong match – or open debate, in you prefer- front and center. Directorially, she doesn’t waste a moment. Clocking in at only 55 minutes, the play inches forward at breakneck speed only pausing now and then for quick scene and wardrobe changes, backed by well-chosen, well-placed, incidental music before the lights come on to reveal the very next scene. Langston also keeps the spirit and style of the piece entirely true to the playwright’s mindset, its expectations and thought-provoking conclusion.”

By Jim Ruocco (CT Critics Circle / Monday, April 4, 2022

Review: Backyard Theater’s ‘A Number’ offers an emotional and ethical view of human cloning

“Director Teresa Langston and the actors, especially Mike Zizka as Salter, go for a heightened sense of everyday anxiety. Zizka stammers and shuffles and mutters very convincingly as a weary man trying to make sense of his life. Ryan Wantroba as his three sons (or rather one son and his clones) has a trickier job, differentiating them without making it seem too phony or theatrical.

“A Number” doesn’t respond well to any one overarching style or attitude. It’s a fluid piece that asks one to bend with it. Backyard Theater Ensemble comes close, and, most importantly, proclaims the play’s message strongly and clearly, bringing it into the present day.”

By Christopher Arnott / Hartford Courant / Apr 07, 2022 at 6:00 am