Broken Umbrella Theatre

Inventive Theater Opens Friday: A Broken Umbrella Theatre is Back

The Broken Umbrella Theatre is back. After their stint as part of the Arts and Ideas Festival last year—where their show Freewheelers was one of the hottest tickets—BUT has more to live up to than ever. The troupe is known for its fresh way of incorporating facts, locations, and famous personages from New Haven history into original theatrical productions that are entertaining, educational, and inventive.

The subject of their latest production—opening tomorrow night for its first weekend run, and continuing for the next two successive weekends, through June 8—is A. C. Gilbert, the man who invented the Erector set, a build-it yourself “play set” that has turned 100. Gilbert’s toy company, originally called the Mysto Manufacturing Company when the Erector set was first developed in 1913, was one of the biggest local employers in New Haven as the A. C. Gilbert Company from 1916 and for nearly fifty years, till Gilbert’s death in 1961. According to Rachel Alderman, a producer of Gilbert the Great, Gilbert saw the idea of toys as “trinkets or baubles”—which they had been mostly—as a disservice to children. Gilbert believed that toys should be “educational, instructive, and amusing” (the claim for his Erector set), and that they should develop boys into “builders of tomorrow.” And, yes, he did mean boys. Gilbert’s ideal of manhood—the kind of guys who would fight two World Wars and return to bolster the economy through innovation and know-how—was served by his development of such “toys” as chemistry kits and an “atomic kit” that contained actual radioactive material. Gilbert wasn’t kidding around.

The breakthrough invention, though, was clearly the Erector set and so Gilbert the Great will be staged in what was once Gilbert’s factory—Erector Square, of course. The Erector set, which came in a variety of formats depending on how much money you could spare and how intricate you wanted your constructions to be, consisted of actual steel girders and could also include pulleys, caster wheels for motion and even, in the advanced kits, the means to build functional motors. Indeed, Alderman says, Gilbert, who was a noted inventor and not just a toy manufacturer, developed enamel-coated wire that made possible the creation of tiny motors, a key factor in the production of smaller appliances, such as blenders and hair dryers, and for beloved toys such as the model train. And trains are part of the story.

“One story,” Alderman says, “is that Gilbert got the idea for the Erector set while on a train into New York City when he observed the steel girders built to carry the electric lines for the train.” However, she adds, Gilbert was also savvy enough to buy up a European competitor—called Meccano—that was already on the market. Gilbert, she says, was a genius at marketing and was also skilled as a proselytizer for his products. When, during World War II shortages, there was a plan to suspend the production of such expendable items as toys, the titan of the toy industry took his argument to Congress, insisting that the toys of today build the men of tomorrow and that children need toys in order to become responsible and capable adults. It worked.

The key to Gilbert’s Erector set was the hands-on approach, and visitors to the BUT production will find in the lobby displays from the Eli Whitney Museum that inform about Gilbert’s company, including a timeline and exhibits of Erector sets. The story of Gilbert is part of New Haven history, and Alderman and her associates found, in researching and preparing the dramaturgy of the production, that many current residents of New Haven worked for Gilbert’s company, which was the first job for many now retired.

Gilbert himself is something of a character and will be played—as a character in the play—by different actors at different times. An inventor, a manufacturer, a marketer, an athlete, Gilbert was the kind of all-purpose businessman that lots of people have in mind when they talk about the American way of business. But Gilbert was also an Olympian gold medalist, in the long jump and in pole-vaulting, a graduate of Yale, and, to pay his way through college, a practicing magician. In fact, his first toy line was a magic kit for kids. Such a larger than life figure should have a play written about him.

Gilbert the Great celebrates Gilbert’s values of brainstorming, innovation, and collaboration. The play is set in 1954, the year Gilbert published his autobiography, in Gilbert’s factory where a group of workers—Betty (Lisa Daly), Morty (Ryan Gardner), Gladys (Rachel Alderman), Herb (Lou Mangini), Donald (Matthew Gaffney)—are expected to collaborate on a project. The process of their interactions and ideas mirrors the process of theater and gives the troupe the opportunity to work in certain fantastical elements, a bit of magical realism (fitting enough for a guy who was a magician), and unexpected developments. The characters, to some extent, are inspired by stories the play-writing team of Charles Alexander and Jes Mack heard from locals they interviewed about the factory in its heyday. “People will recognize the details of the story, such as parents bringing home stray pieces from sets for their children, and will be able to connect with the intergenerational experience Gilbert's industry provided," Alderman says.

Alderman calls the play “a fast-paced, whimsical and poignant” reflection on Gilbert’s legacy at a time when people are becoming wary of the passivity of children spending so much time looking at screens and foregoing the kinds of exploration and do-it-yourself, hands-on manipulation and experiential learning that Gilbert insisted was paramount for engagement with the world of things, the world we all live in.

Just at the Erector sets were not toys for small children, Gilbert the Great is not recommended for children under 7.

Special events are planned during the show’s run:

Friday, May 23, Opening Night: a special champagne toast after the show with its cast, crew and creative team

Saturday, May 31: a post-show talkback, with dessert, and discussion with Bill Brown, of the Eli Whitney Museum

Saturday, June 8, 2 p.m.: a Gilbert-inspired walking tour with guide Colin Caplan, location TBA

Directed by Ruben Ortiz, Ian Alderman, and Ryan Gardner, the show’s creation team also includes Rachel Alderman, Charles Alexander, Dana Astmann, Megan Brennan, Lisa Daly, Ian Dunn, Matthew Gaffney, Jes Mack, Louis Mangini.

A Broken Umbrella Theatre presents Gilbert the Great At Erector Square, Building 5, Floor 2 315 Peck Street, New Haven May 23-June 8 Fridays: 8 p.m.; Saturdays: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays: 4 p.m.

for information and tickets

Theater News

This week the Long Wharf’s world premiere of Heidi Schreck’s The Consultant opens officially on Wednesday, January 15. See our preview here. This week as well the Yale Cabaret resumes its 46th season with Have I None, a daunting play by British playwright Edward Bond from 2000. Set in 2077, the play darkly imagines a dystopia in which memory, and therefore history, has been erased. Jessica Holt, 2nd-year YSD director and Artistic Director for the Yale Summer Cabaret, 2014, will stage the claustrophobic play with stress on Bond's sense of the absurd. January 16-18.

Next week, on January 23, from 5:30 to 8:30, celebrated local theater troupe A Broken Umbrella Theatre will host a fundraiser at the Eli Whitney Museum and unveil details about their latest venture. As usual, the project is an original play based on historical figures, facts, and locales of New Haven. If You Build It, the new play, focuses on inventor A. C. Gilbert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his most famous creation: the Erector Set. Director Ruben Ortiz, playwright Charlie Alexander, and cast members will present an excerpt of the work in progress.

The build up of the production will be complemented by an evening of treats and toys: Small Kitchen Big Taste will be serving “architectural food,” including slider and mashed potato stations to build-your-own-cupcakes, Thimble Island Brewery will feature locally crafted beers, and ABU's Chrissy Gardner and the Moody Food Trio will provide musical accompaniment. Guests are invited to try their hand at the engineering feat of Erector Set construction along with ABU’s crew of welders, carpenters and electricians.

A Broken Umbrella Theatre has presented site specific works in New Haven for the last five years and enjoyed perhaps their greatest triumph at last year’s Arts and Ideas Festival with Freewheelers. Come out, sneak a peak at their next production, become a patron, and have fun.

For more information, please visit, or contact Rachel Alderman at: 203.823.7988 or

Next week as well will see the 10th show of the season at the Yale Cabaret: 3rd-year YSD actress Elia Monte-Brown’s original play, The Defendant, about the rigors of public school in New York (where Monte-Brown taught); the play aims to recreate some of the anxieties of today’s student, and to question the values of public education in America, using all 1st year actors in the YSD program. January 23-25.

And on the last week of the month, January 31st, previews begin for the Yale Repertory Theatre’s next production: The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, a world premiere from Whiting-Award winning playwright, and recent YSD graduate, Meg Miroshnik. Miroshnik's play, directed by two-time OBIE-Award-winning director Rachel Chavkin, who previously directed an Off-Broadway production of the celebrated musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, is set in 2005 as a twenty-year-old girl named Annie returns to her native Russia. Underneath the glamor of a Post-Soviet Moscow bedecked with high ticket consumer goods, Annie discovers a land of enchantment straight out of a fairytale, with evil stepmothers, wicked witches, and ravenous bears.

The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls opens officially on February 7, and runs til February 22.

A Bike of One's Own

Freewheelers, the new production by A Broken Umbrella Theatre featured in the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, takes place in a renovated space at 300 State Street, a large room entered, via a subterranean passageway—and a grand old elevator—from Chapel Street, where Horowitz Brothers once stood. The work done simply to make the space available was considerable and the little trip to the playing space lets one reflect on the layers of history that ABUT projects tend to excavate. Since 2009, the diverse troupe has embraced the past of New Haven as inspiration for shows that create a sense of community while making entertaining use of facts about our city. The current show is not quite so grand as the Library Project last fall, but what it lacks in range it makes up for in focused story. The story of Anne (Lisa Daly), a factory worker with a yen to cycle on the exciting new invention the bicycle (patented in New Haven in 1866), is paralleled with the story of Elizabeth (Robin Levine), wife of Isaac the factory owner, who has some health issues that cause her to faint at times. What does the modern doctor (Lou Mangini) prescribe, to the consternation of conservative Isaac? Why, cycling! It does wonders for the constitution, of course, but…

But this is the 1800s and women mustn’t do anything unseemly—especially not in public! To make matters worse that factory Isaac runs happens to be rather new-fangled itself: it’s the first factory to manufacture woman’s most necessary accessory—the corset! Mr. Isaac Adler (played with measured if questionable authority by Ian Alderman) isn’t likely to embrace the idea of his wife cycling, nor is he amused when Anne shows up for work in male attire, the only way to cycle comfortably, you see. . .

As you might expect, the women may have to come to an understanding. Along the way, there are lovely songs to set the mood, factory routine that smacks of Metropolis, Levine’s dance routine with a chair—we all know Flashdance, sure, but here the pas de deux with a Chippendale actually serves a thematic purpose and is quite expressive—and some verbal fun via overlap when Isaac and Bigelow, his 2nd in Command (Mangini), plot how to make “boning” more flexible (no jokes, please, this is a kid-friendly production) while the women get flexible on their wheels. The men are referring, of course, to whalebone, the stiffening ingredient in the torso-confining strait jacket known as the corset.

As Anne, Daly is fresh-faced and earnest—not subversive, just common-sensical. As the more “vaporish” Elizabeth, Levine has the right waxen look for a wife being discussed in the third person by her husband and her doctor, and her reaction to Anne’s response to her inadvertent humor gets a big laugh. As Amelia, one of the children employable at a factory in this benighted time, Remsen Welsh is charmingly wise beyond her years. Mangini is deferential as the doctor, dedicated as Bigelow, and slightly conflicted as the bicycle store owner selling to a young woman a tool in her liberation. As the factory workers, Megan Black, Cynthia Miller, and Malenky Welsh do simulated sewing in synch and let their tongues wag with the resentment of exploited labor. Adler’s got a lot of headaches ahead of him…maybe there’s the possibility of a sequel as we follow the course of the corset from its heyday through its decline and onto the pages of Victoria’s Secrets.

Freewheelers, with its effective score and songs by Chrissy Gardner, does a fine job of combining the troupe’s historical interests with a contemporary vibe to arrive at a little machine as efficient as a well-oiled bike.


International Festival of Arts & Ideas presents

Freewheelers Conceived and created by A Broken Umbrella Theatre

Story Development Team: Rachel Alderman, Ian Alderman, Dana Astmann, Jacy Barber, Lisa Daly, Brandon Fuller, Chrissy Gardner, Robin Levine, Jes Mack, Lou Mangini, Michelle Ortiz, Ruben Ortiz, Jason Wells

Director & Playwright: Rachel Alderman; Composer, Lyricist, Musical Director: Chrissy Gardner; Movement Director: Robin Levine; Set Designer: Brandon Fuller; Costume Designer: Jacy Barber; Lighting Designer: Trui Malten; Sound Designer: Dave Baker; Production Manager: Janie Alexander; Stage Manager: Katrina Lewonczyk

June 15, 16, 22, 23, 29 at 3pm June 16, 23 at 7pm June 15, 19, 22, 26, 29 at 8pm

The Show Must Go On

Sandy notwithstanding, theatrical offerings are plentiful as this week of hurricane hysteria draws to its close. Local theater group A Broken Umbrella Theater offers the third of its three-weekend run of The Library Project, Nov. 3-4, with four more performances. Developed to coincide with the celebration of the New Haven Free Public Library’s 125 years of existence, the play requires its audience to move about through the historic building facing the Green, led by charming escorts with glowing umbrellas. After introductory pieces in the entranceway and main hall that give a bit of the historical circumstances that gave rise, back in the 1880s, to the Public Library, featuring dialogue between its architect, Cass Gilbert (Matthew Gafney) and its patron, Mary Ives (Mary Jane Smith), the audience divides into groups determined by a star on each program that denotes which of the five pieces will be encountered first.

Moving through the library in a group brings back memories of ye olde class trip—which may or may not be fond memories, depending—and, indeed, the tour has the air of a compelled itinerary as no one breaks ranks or moves about freely. It’s all rather impressively organized so that there is never much waiting, once everyone has seated themselves in a new area, before the site-specific performance begins. Because of differences in where each group begins, the experience differs from group to group, but the sequence is the same. My group began with “RIP” and concluded with “Balance a Dime”—an instructive bracketing, as these two pieces manage to look a bit askance at the history of the Ives Branch Library.

In “RIP,” directed by Ian Alderman and developed by the Ensemble, Salvatore DeMaio (Ruben Ortiz) is a muralist of the WPA era, who painted the Library’s murals depicting the story of Rip Van Winkle—in the play he’s going about his business, only to find himself a ghost haunting, unbeknownst to them, the conservators (Charlie Alexander and Halle Martenson) trying to restore his murals. The tension between their effort—with lack of funds and, apparently, a lack of will by the powers that be—and his shock at what has become of his work creates a somewhat critical air regarding the stewardship of the building we had seen so nobly celebrated in the hall upstairs. And, at the close, “Balance a Dime,” also directed by Alderman, and written by Jason Patrick Wells, features a kind of dueling libraries account of the events by which the NHFPL wound up with funds originally earmarked for The Institute Library. With the latter represented by its Executive Director, Will Baker, or its Outreach Coordinator Megan Black, and the NHFPL represented by its Executive Director, Christopher Korenowsky, and the City of New Haven enacted by Lou Mangini, the playlet airs the bad blood between the two libraries which “turns on the dime,” as it were, of the wording in the will of Mr. Merritt, who left the $60,000 start-up fund for a library in New Haven.

Between these two pieces filled with the tensions of funding, managing, and conserving a civic landmark are lighter pieces that conjure up the romance of the library. Whether it’s dancing patrons “In Circulation” (Robin Levine, choreography), or the songs in the mouths of friends Noah Webster (Kenneth Murray) and Samuel Morse (Peter Chenot) as they, in “Noah & Sam” (directed by Rachel Alderman, with Book, Music & Lyrics by Rob Shapiro) discuss the challenges and opportunities of technology in “the Information Age,” or, in my favorite segment, the very charming children (Kaatje Welsh and Remsen Welsh) and their musical mentor (Josie Kulp) who, in “Branching Out” (written and directed by Rachel Alderman), inhabit the children’s wing as though it were truly a fabled place promised in fairy tales, these interludes aim to enchant with the sense of the library’s magic, and mostly succeed.

With over 70 people providing their talents and expertise, and with the Library allowing free run of its impressive building, The Library Project marks the most ambitious ABUT offering yet, and is effective in rallying pride and surprise as it deepens its viewers’ sense of the library’s place and purpose in the community.

Tonight (postponed from last night) sees the opening of Iphigenia Among the Stars, the thesis show for Jack Tamburri, third year directing MFA at the Yale School of Drama, which takes two tragedies by Euripides, centered on Agamemnon’s daughter, the ill-fated Iphigenia, and, as adapted by Ben Fainstein, mashes them with the Mighty Marvel Comics-style of Jack “King” Kirby to create something that should entertain and instruct, we assume. Oct. 31-Nov. 1, Iseman Theater, 1156 Chapel Street.

On Friday, the Argentinian theater group Las chicas de blanco (The Girls in White) presents La edad de la ciruela (The Age of the Plum), an interpretive piece that renders conflicting feelings about home and place in light of the central metaphor of a rooted plum tree. The play, which premiered in 2010, represented Buenos Aires in the 2011 National Drama Festival. Las chicas de blanco explore theater through expressive dramaturgy and the humor of an ironic female perspective. The performing duo involve work from “The Subway Lives,” a program that uses unusual spaces, such as subways, for artistic performances, and are the originators of “Women Take Up Art,” an all-female group that promotes the possibilities for cultural transformation through theater.

Free and open to the public, the performance is in Spanish and is aimed to provide access to Spanish language productions for Yale and New Haven communities. At Yale’s Off-Broadway Theater, 41 Broadway, New Haven, Nov. 2, 2 p.m.

Imminent Theater

Beginning this weekend and running for the next two, A Broken Umbrella Theatre brings its latest fall project to the Ives Main Library in New Haven.  If you know the work of ABUT, you know that they concoct new theatrical pieces as site-specific works in various historical New Haven locations.  The current work, entitled simply The Library Project, was commissioned by the New Haven Free Public Library Foundation to mark the 125th anniversary of the library, a fixture upon the green since 1887.

The audience will tour three floors of the library, moving from room to room in different groups, finding in their travels seven original works—involving song, dance, puppets, spectacle—staged in suitable areas of the building.  For instance, the story of “RIP” involves a muralist going between different times the way Rip Van Winkle does—and that segment is set in the basement of the library where the WPA murals featuring Rip are located.  All the segments feature some aspect of the history and function of the library, and are produced by the team of ABUT in collaboration with others—ABUT’s ranks for this production, their grandest yet, have been expanded to over 60 participants, all volunteer, including the Executive Director of the New Haven Free Public Library, Christopher Korenowsky, and Will Baker, Executive Director of the Institute Library (which predates the NHFPL).

If earlier ABUT projects are any indication, the show will be entertaining, lively, and fun for viewers age 8 and up.

A Broken Umbrella Theatre is committed to making theater accessible to all, so the pricing for the shows is “pay what you can.”  Reservations are strongly recommended:  Box office opens one hour prior to the show at Ives Main Library, 133 Elm Street, New Haven.  And before the show begins, you can avail yourself of beer or wine in the lobby and chat about the facts behind the fiction with ABUT’s Artistic Directory Ian Alderman and historian Colin Caplan.

A Broken Umbrella Theatre The Library Project October 20–21, 27–28; November 3–4 Saturdays at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Sundays at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Later in November, New Haven’s other local theater group, New Haven Theater Company, will be mounting David Mamet’s Speed the Plow, another intense, confrontational play from the master of late 20th-century speak.  Directed by company member George Kulp, the show includes two members of last year’s ambitious NHTC project, Urinetown: Megan Keith Chenot as Karen, and Steve Scarpa, who directed last year’s rousing Waiting for Lefty, as Fox; J. Kevin Smith, memorable as Ricky Roma in the NHTC production of Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, plays Gould.

Mamet is the go-to guy for small theater companies like NHTC, as his dramas have small casts, don’t require much scenery, and offer commanding showcases for character interaction.  NHTC has already been noted for their grasp of Mametry with Glengarry Glen Ross, and Speed the Plow which, yes, actually features a woman in its cast, should give them ample opportunity to sling speech in this satire of movie industry insiders.  Gould is the new Head of Production at a major Hollywood studio, and Fox, his friend for 11 years, brings him a project: a film that should be a blockbuster and make them both rich.  Karen, an office temp, questions the value of the film, opening up Gould and Fox to considerations of their priorities.

New Haven Theater Company David Mamet's Speed the Plow UpCrown Studios, 216 Crown Street, New Haven

Wednesday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m. Friday, November 16, 7 p.m. Saturday, November 17, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and go on sale Tuesday, October 23.

We Like Bikes

At last weekend’s Art Walk in Westville, one of the main attractions was A Broken Umbrella Theatre’s performance of their latest theatrical outing, Head Over Wheels.  And there are two more opportunities to see the show: Sat., May 19th, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Situated outdoors at 446A Blake Street, beside the purling waters of the West River, the performance space consists of bleachers on the grass facing a friendly and fun-looking bike shop.  The sun shines, the breeze breezes, and young children, parents, and other audience members are welcomed by the voice of a lively DJ (Matthew Gafney), introducing The Pierre Lallement Annual Community Bicycle Ride.

Clint (Ryan Gardner), the proprietor of the shop, is what might be described—putting it mildly—as a bike enthusiast.  With his outgoing manner he makes bike-riding seem more natural than walking, and his bike buddies more than concur: a mild-mannered “paper boy”—a full-grown man (Lou Mangini) who delivers papers via bike as a family business—a pizza-delivery guy (Jason Wells) complete with a stack of pizza boxes, and a preening bicyclist-athlete (Ruben Ortiz) happily regale us with their love of bicycling.

With a catchy tune, they invite all the kids to take part in a drawing to see who will be the Grand Marshal of, with syncopated movements, “The Pierre Lallement Annual Community Bicycle Ride When the Entire Community Communes to Celebrate New Haven’s Rich History and Its Innovative Inventions Including the Bicycle…and Picnic.” When the winner is announced, the problems begin: Clint’s twin brother Flint (Ian Alderman) receives the honor, but there’s a major hitch: as he confides to us (and to the children particularly), Flint can’t ride a bike!

If you have small children and take them to live performances, you won’t want to miss this: the play not only involves a bit of New Haven history, it also works within a child’s perspective, as the best kids’ shows do.  The company, particularly Ian Alderman, have a natural skill in eliciting responses from kids—getting them to participate in the lottery, and also—one of the more charming bits— to shout unscripted encouragement to Flint as he tries desperately to overcome his fear of bikes and his awkward uncertainty about how to ride the darn thing.

Some of the kids were so demonstrative about how he should go about this task that they clearly and proudly have mastered, there’s no doubt he would’ve gotten the hang of it.  Fortunately, for the dramatic aspects of the show, he gets aid from another quarter: La La Lallement (Michelle Ortiz), descendent of the legendary Pierre himself, arrives with an air of fairy-godmother magic, to—with song and dance moves—get Flint up to speed.

But it’s not so simple, which requires Flint to come clean about his fear of bicycling.  A judicious plot point, since it’s important, we realize, that Flint own up to the facts.  Played as an engaging man-child by Alderman, Flint’s predicament stretches into all kinds of areas where kids might worry about not knowing how to do what everyone else seems to grasp already.  So, there is instruction amidst all the fun.

The music (provided by Chrissy Gardner) keeps things lively, and the comic patter gets laughs—particularly from Antonio (Ruben Ortiz), who speaks in an unplaceable accent, picked up, he tells us, from all the places he’s biked through, and who offers to transport on his back on his bike the entire audience because his thighs are so strong.  There are also sight gags, like Alderman trying to mount a bicycle, inventively finding every way to do it except the right way, and, later, his choices in protective attire.

Children generally enjoy watching adults being silly, and they won’t be disappointed here.  And because the goal—riding a bike—is one they are familiar with or will be, the play, while fanciful, is also real enough.

Engaging and interactive, Head Over Wheels is another appealing offering from A Broken Umbrella Theatre.


Head Over Wheels

May 12 and May 19, 2012

Conceived and developed by A Broken Umbrella Theatre

Directed by Rachel Alderman

Story Development Team: Ian Alderman, Rachel Alderman, Chrissy Gardner, Ryan Gardner, Michelle Ortiz, Ruben Ortiz, and Jason Wells; Music: Chrissy Gardner; Choreographer: Robin Levine; Design Team: Janie Alexander, Jacy Barber, Ryan Gardner, and Laura Miracle Tamarkin; Stage Manager: Micah Stieglitz


Matching the Setting

Play With Matches, the latest production by New Haven theater group A Broken Umbrella Theatre, recent winner of the CT Arts Award, fills the production’s very interesting space in a very inventive and appealing way.  Installed in an old warehouse, the play is set in the house and on the grounds of the mansion of the actual inventor Ebenezer Beecher, whose home eventually provided the location of the current Mitchell Library in Westville.  The fact that the renovators who built the library found secret panels, trapdoors, a hidden drawer in a stair, and a blueprint for the matchstick-making machine that was the source of Beecher’s early fortune led to rumors that Beecher’s unquiet ghost still roams the building.  And those stories are, in part, the start of the story ABUT’s Play With Matches, written by Jason Patrick Wells, directed by Ian Alderman, tells.

When, about midway through Matches, the cast ran about the impressive three-story set, up and down secret passageways, out on a catwalk, and around a brick tower while “romp” music played, even enacting that old Stooges standby of two cowardly investigators backing slowly into one another, I couldn’t help thinking of Gene London, the live-action Saturday morning TV show of the 1960s, which sometimes featured visits to the creepy Quigley mansion, complete with Stooges-style slapstick.  Of course, the other immediate reference, especially with the introduction of Buddy (Lou Mangini), a hippy-looking dude with a manner reminiscent of Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, was the old Scooby-Doo cartoon which featured Shaggy, an obvious stoner, and spooky goings-on that would find their inevitable cause in a criminal culprit.  In fact, the large stone carved by a stream’s current to resemble a dog, that Beecher has hauled from his hometown, Morris, CT, to his estate, bore a bit of a resemblance to the profile of Scooby…and could the fact that Buddy is first encountered driving a classic VW “Bug” be a reference to Buddy Hackett in The Love Bug?

The levels of the set, the levels of reference to CT history and, perhaps, to the bygone shows of youth keep the play entertaining, even as the story it’s telling gets a bit byzantine.  We see the rise of Ebenezer with the building of his great mansion (a lovely bit of staging with “hands” hanging windows and doors from the catwalk), and we see his domineering business-dealings with his hapless factory foreman (Matthew Gaffney, looking like a prime piece of Victoriana in his great walrus whiskers), and we see, in a kind of frenetic dumbshow, how EB gets ideas stolen from him, and hear, in Ebenezer’s arguments with his brother Wheeler (Michael Peter Smith, a wall portrait come to life), that there were accidents at the factory, and thus Ebenezer’s fortunes begin to dwindle until he’s a recluse in a basement room reached by secret trapdoors, and his daughter Helena (Jes Mack) presides over his home.

Then, circa late Sixties, come those erstwhile dudes from Cleveland—Buddy and Brandt (Ruben Ortiz).  The latter is a man with a mission: to enter the mansion before it gets torn down to see if any secrets—the kind one man of science, from the past, might leave to his equal number in the present—abide within.  It’s then that the “ghost story” kicks into gear, ambling toward a kind of “grateful dead” conclusion (no, not the band, but rather the folklore genre in which a ghost can’t rest until some task is performed after which he, dead, gratefully departs).

As Ebenezer, Ryan Gardner has a zestful brio that one associates with madcap inventors in cartoons, as well as ebullient leads in musicals.  He sets a tone the play doesn’t quite recover from, especially when efforts are made to make the proceedings more creepy than comic.  In his sumptuous get-up, complete with silk top hat and knobbly walkingstick, Gardner’s Ebenezer is the hinge of the show, but it seemed to me an opportunity was lost in not making him become more ghostly.  Rather, the play opts for a kind of timeless era within the present where Ebenezer lives as if normally.  It’s a more artistic choice, perhaps, but it would’ve been fun to see Gardner haunt as well as rant.

The slowest bit in the proceedings was Brandt’s rambling monologue before the door of the mansion.  Ortiz isn’t given much to build up interest in Brandt, forthright and a bit spacey, so we’d rather see him doing something—like trying to get into the house—than simply talking.  Fortunately, the play keeps things varied so that there’s a little something for everyone: For talk for talk’s sake the best parts are stories told by Ebenezer’s daughter, with Jes Mack’s patient Helena either high above us or a disembodied voice addressing us.  For action, there’s the aforementioned romp, and the activities of the Crew (Michelle Ortiz, Kenneth Murray, Molly Leona) whose movements had the kind of pacing one sees in old movieolas, and for sinister, there’s the Halloweenish effects that overtake the Housekeeper (Mary Jane Smith) and Foreman Gaffney.  For comedy, there’s Buddy who, to my mind, could play it broader…talking to his car, speaking in rock music quotations, searching for Scooby-snacks when the rock growls?

A Broken Umbrella Theatre is noted for developing original works to stage in unlikely and/or inspiring places and, with the set and setting in Play With Matches they’ve made a striking match.


Play With Matches conceived and created by A Broken Umbrella Theatre directed by Ian Alderman; written by Jason Patrick Wells 10/21-23; 10/28-30; 11/4-6; Fridays: 8 p.m.; Sat./Sun.: 3 p.m. & 7 p.m. 446A Blake Street, New Haven, CT

Who Thought Murder in Westville Could Be So Much Fun?


(New Haven, CT – October 5, 2010) Cops and criminals. Headlines and handcuffs. Villains and vaudeville. Extra! Extra! From the team that transformed the tunnel in Edgewood Park into a pirate’s lair with their sold out 2009 spectacle Thunderbolt, comes A Broken Umbrella Theatre’s newest creation VaudeVillain. This fall, the line between fact and fiction thins to a blur when the audience is lead on a “who done it?” psychological, Halloween adventure traveling through every room in Lyric Hall Antiques & Conservation, 827 Whalley Avenue, on October 23, 24, 30 and 31.

Ripped from the actual New Haven newspaper headlines of 1913, mystery and mayhem abound as we follow the trail of a suspected murderer, William Allen, from song to scene to sensational dream. The past meets the present during a surreal finale in the beautifully restored and ghostly West Rock Vaudeville Theatre, newly renamed The Showroom at Lyric Hall. An eerie and festive Halloween experience awaits you!

Performances of VaudeVillain will be on Saturday, October 23 at 7pm and 9pm and Sunday, October 24 at 2pm and 6pm. During Halloween Weekend, performances will be on Saturday, October 30 and Sunday, October 31 at 2pm, 6pm and 8pm. Limited reservations are available for $15 per ticket at, on sale starting Friday, October 8. Day-of-show ticket distribution is available one hour prior to the start of each performance on a first come, first serve basis at the box office located at Lyric Hall Antiques & Conservation, 827 Whalley Avenue, New Haven. Day-of-show tickets are Pay-What-You-Can. Not recommended for ages 10 and below. On street parking is available in the Westville neighborhood of New Haven as well as the lot in Edgewood Park off of West Rock Avenue. For more information about additional Halloween activities for all ages in the vibrant Westville neighborhood, please visit

Conceived and developed by A Broken Umbrella Theatre, VaudeVillain features a cast and crew of local New Haven artists as well as additional professionals hailing from New York, New Jersey and Hawaii.  Words: Ken Baldino. Script: The Ensemble. Music and Lyrics: Rob Shapiro. Direction: Ian Alderman. Historian: Colin Caplan. Production Team: Jes Mack, Brandon Fuller, Jen McClure, Denise Santisteban, Ryan Gardner, Jason Wells, Ian Alderman, Rachel Alderman and John Caveliere. Choreography: Robin Levine. Musical Director: Dana Astmann. Graphic design by Vaxa Creative. A Broken Umbrella Theatre is supported by a Mayor’s Arts Grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of New Haven.

A Broken Umbrella Theatre aspires to enhance the vitality of our community through compelling storytelling, mined from history, with a commitment to aesthetic rigor. For more information please visit

For more information on VaudeVillain or to learn more about A Broken Umbrella Theatre contact:

Rachel Alderman at rachel @