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Sunday
May282017

Smithtown Author Jeb Ladouceur Introduces Novel The Southwick Incident  

Photos by Debbie Lange Fifer 

Jeb Ladouceur Introduces His Twelfth Novel To an Enthusiastic Smithtown Library Audience

This big crowd is typical of the heavy turnouts that Smithtown author Jeb Ladouceur has drawn at more than one hundred book signings for his dozen thrillers over the past ten years.

 

Dr. Louis Greenblatt, a longtime friend of Smithtown’s favorite writer of fiction, attends all of Ladouceur’s signings. THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT is dedicated to the Nissequogue M.D.

 

One of author Ladouceur’s earliest supporters is Hofstra English professor Chuck Anderson. Like the Smithtown writer, Anderson is also a prolific novelist. He lives in Bellport.

 

 

 

 

Renowned writer, actor, and director of Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, Jeffrey Sanzel, shown here with his friend, noted actress Linda May, is a strong supporter of Ladouceur’s literary work.

Author Jeb Ladouceur’s zest for writing exciting fiction virtually leaps from the podium as he describes the creative process as he sees it. “I’m only half alive when I’m not writing,” he says.

 

 

 

A longtime friend of Jeb Ladouceur, and the author of four children’s books, Smithtown’s popular entrepreneur Marguerite Zangrillo is said to be branching out into adult fiction writing. ‘Muggs’ is a regular at Jeb’s several book events.

 

Jeb’s great-grandson, Jackson Kamp, seems inclined to follow in Papa Ladouceur’s footsteps. According to the four-year-old’s parents, the boy loves nothing more than to read and write. He’s shown here with his aunt Kim Ladouceur, who always assists at her grandfather’s book signings.

Thursday
May252017

THEATER REVIEW - "Saturday Night Fever, the Musical"

THEATER REVIEW

“Saturday Night Fever, the Musical” - Produced by: Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

According to Nik Cohn’s 1975 New York Magazine article titled, ‘The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,’ and the Norman Wexler screenplay that it inspired two years later (when the film gave us John Travolta), “Wanting to be like someone else is a waste of the person you are.” This pithy observation (generally attributed to Kurt Kobain) is the sort of forceful reflection that runs through ‘Saturday Night Fever, the Musical’ being performed at Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three thru June 24th.

The story revolves around Tony Manero, a teenaged paint store employee (played by the multi-talented Bobby Peterson) and poor Manero’s humdrum occupation, like those of his bored-to-death peers in Brooklyn, is getting him nowhere. Tony’s one claim to fame is reflected in the adoration of his dance-absorbed neighbors who admire the young hoofer’s unquestioned expertise on the dance floor, and where Manero luxuriates in their idolizing him at the ‘2001 Odyssey Disco’ every weekend.

In a society where the Bay Ridge Neighborhood is akin to a medieval Dukedom in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge (and just as treacherous, as one violent scene proves to be), all that the reigning Tony lacks is an appropriate Duchess. It’s not until the middle of Act I that Stephanie (expertly interpreted by Rachel Greenblatt) comes along, and predictably knocks him for a loop without even trying.

As things progress, both Tony and Manhattanite wannabe Stephanie are perfectly at home singing and dancing to the score of ‘Saturday Night Fever, the Musical,’ whose featured numbers consist primarily of songs written by The Bee Gees (‘Stayin’ Alive’ – ‘How Deep is Your Love’ – ‘More Than a Woman’ – etc.) Worthy of special note is Beth Whitford (playing Annette) whose rendition of ‘If I Can’t Have You’ is an absolute show-stopper.

But there’s more to this musical than singing and dancing … the plot is a silky-smooth combination of bleakness and brightness … love and loathing … tenderness and tragedy. So effortlessly do the principal characters play off of one another during the dialogue of the production that the near-capacity evening audience last weekend seemed not even to breathe during the more intimate conversations of the key players. The pacing and volume of such colloquies, more than anything else, reveal the actors’ competence, and they also speak to the proficiency of the director (Jeffrey Sanzel).

In this regard, it was refreshing to sit back in the comfortable 100-year-old playhouse in Port Jefferson and hear the theatrically articulate Rachel Greenblatt deliver her spoken lines with perfect modulation and inflection. Every stage production is spearheaded by one actor whose cadence and tone seem to inspire the entire company, and in ‘Fever’ it’s Greenblatt. The young woman has blossomed into a performer of the first rank.

Kudos, too, are due the twenty other members of the large featured cast. There isn’t a disappointment in the enthusiastic lot. As for Jeffrey Hoffman’s seven-piece orchestra, it’s likely that The Bee Gees themselves would have cheered the talented musicians lustily at the final curtain. Lighting (Robert W. Henderson, Jr.), Scenery (Randall Parsons), Costumes (Ronald Green III), and Choreography (Whitney Stone) are all first-rate. Accordingly everyone who avails themselves of the opportunity, is sure to enjoy a magnificent experience at ‘Broadway on Main Street’ in Port Jeff … no matter what day or night they choose to catch ‘The Fever.’

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Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, debuted this month, and was introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

Monday
Apr242017

THEATER REVIEW - “Where There’$ a Will” 

THEATER REVIEW

“Where There’$ a Will” - Produced by: Theatre Three - Port Jefferson

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

Phyllis March, Jessica Contino, & Mary Ellin Kurtz Going bananas in Sanzel’s ‘Where There’$ a Will’ 

When you accept the wacky premise of this farce, without actually knowing where it will lead, you’ve let yourself in for an outrageously funny experience in Theatre Three’s delightful old Port Jefferson playhouse. Why? Because as when viewing any theatrical charade, one must buy into its madcap hypothesis in order for the ensuing sight and dialogue gags to work. In short, such a play will tickle your funny bone, but only if you invite it to do so … and “Where There’$ a Will” is a perfect example of the phenomenon.

Most staged absurdities feature a small cast wherein four or five easily recognized characters come and go, as opposing doors open and close with perfect timing … or cases of mistaken identity and unannounced appearances abound. We of the audience are in on the bogus business from the outset, of course, and that’s the lynchpin that makes for a successful farce. Allowing ourselves to become Peeping Toms is the sine qua non behind any satisfying comedic travesty, after all, and therein lies the genius of “Where There’$ a Will.” 

Indeed, one of the most unique aspects of the laugh-out-loud chaos being staged at Theatre Three thru May 6th is the depth of its seasoned cast. Who ever heard of seventeen actors … especially the likes of professionals such as Steve Ayle, Marci Bing, Michael Butera, Carol Carota, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Susan Emory, Sari Feldman, Jack Howell, Joan Howell, Skyler Quinn Johnson, Maryellin Kurtz, Phyllis March, Linda May, Steve McCoy, Maryellen Molfetta, and Ruthie Pincus … (whew!) … all performing in perfect synchronization throughout a single complex farce?

To my knowledge, such an ambitious undertaking has heretofore been unheard of in the legitimate theater. It out-Bards the Bard.

The story … actually written by Long Island’s premier actor/director/playwright, Jeffrey Sanzel, when he was but eighteen! … is this: A number of struggling actors have a chance to inherit half a million dollars each from a wealthy theater aficionado known as The Potato King. All they have to do is mount a production of his original play “Where There’$ a Will.” Staging the show sounds easy enough, but there’s a catch; nobody is bequeathed one red cent unless and until they perform the play exactly as it’s written … warts and all. The theater buff’s last will and testament might as well have been carved in stone … there are to be no exceptions … the deceased’s indomitable lawyer (along with his tight-fisted wife number four) sees to that! Accordingly, the heterogeneous acting company runs into more bumps on the thespian road than they ever imagined possible, and makes us privy to hilarious and poignant backstage maneuvering in the bargain.

It’s virtually impossible to distribute accolades in this critique with the even-handedness that such a large and expert cast of veteran players deserves. Certainly Marci Bing and Linda May, along with Jack Howell and Steve McCoy are as proficient as any acting quartet working in Long Island theater today. However, only the size of the cast prohibits an in-depth analysis of the troupe’s entertaining performances. Give each of them all the stars you’ve got in your basket of kudos.

The same goes for Randall Parsons, Chakira Doherty, and Robert Henderson (set, costume, and lighting designers respectively). They never disappoint Theatre Three audiences.

As for the play’s incomparable director Jeffrey Sanzel (assisted by Andrew Markowitz), those theatergoers who have followed Sanzel’s career surely are not surprised to learn that he exhibited so much keen theatrical insight at the tender age when he created “Where There’$ a Will.” Now that the local impresario extraordinaire has reached middle age with such cultured grace and élan, it can be justly noted that Sanzel’s legion of actors, patrons, and friends may count themselves privileged not only to know him … but even to have had a conversation with the man.

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Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s recently completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, is due next month, and will be introduced at the Smithtown Library on Sunday afternoon, May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

Tuesday
Apr112017

Book Review - 'Challenging Words For Smart People'

 

BOOK REVIEW

‘Challenging Words for Smart People’ - By Richard Lederer 

162 pages – Marion Street Press

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur 

 

When famed wordsmith, columnist, and presidential speechwriter, William Safire, died in 2009, I had just completed my second reading of his wonderful book on the English language. The title of the work that had mesmerized me so is ‘What’s the Good Word?’ and I remember wondering whether any Wizard of Idiom would ever be able to replace him. That seemed an unlikely prospect at the time. Safire was not merely a punster and a wordaholic, he was a linguist of the first order … and anyone who was serious about writing looked to him for guidance.

In my own case, I had embarked on what seemed a near-impossible task when, at the urging of my literary agent, Alfred Hart, I wrote the first of three word-oriented novels. That initial tale was driven by Palindromes, and thanks to William Safire’s influence, ‘The Palindrome Plot’ was eminently successful.

“Why not publish a wordplay sequel?” said Al, the agent. “How about using Anagrams?”

I re-visited my Safire source for inspiration, and with the master’s help, was able to crank out a story whose plot depended on the shifting of letters within a given word (or word’s) and the resulting novel was ‘Calamity Hook,’ set in Oklahoma. Even the title of book number two is an Anagram … for Oklahoma City.

At the urging of my ever-confident Publicist, Debbie Lange Fifer (all good promoters are thus staunchly sure of their clients) we rounded out the trilogy with ‘Frisco,’ a thriller dependent on a sophisticated form of Anagram known as the Charade. Imagine the term amiable together breaking into six words without changing the sequence of letters … am I able to get her … heady stuff, for which I am indebted largely to Safire.

But my question as to whether anyone would ultimately match, or replace the great linguist was answered over this past weekend when I was presented with a slender volume that is the subject of this critique. I immediately thought of a quote from the Washington Post: “Columnist and punster, Richard Lederer, may be William Safire’s only living peer at writing about grammar, word usage, and derivations.” 

How very true.

Just as was the case with the inimitable Safire, Lederer’s books are acknowledged on a cover note as being, ‘not for everyone’ … though with nearly fifty titles to his credit, one would think that any reader should find some book or other in Lederer’s oeuvre to his liking. For the purposes of this review, however, we will stick to the considerable qualities to be found in the pages of ‘Challenging Words…’

Here you will be treated to a primer on spelling, linguistic curiosities, wordplay … and included are even a number of delightful erudite quizzes on all those categories and more. As author John Vorhaus has observed, “When I picture Richard Lederer’s mind, I see leprechauns with lexicons. Man, there’s a lot going on in there!”

I would question one aspect of this little jewel of a book, however. The title of the work is ‘Challenging Words for Smart People,’ but in actuality that banner is a bit pretentious. After all, what criteria are used to determine who is a ‘smart person’? And exactly what degree of intelligence makes one a ‘smart person’? A better way of defining Lederer’s book as it relates to intellect (it seems to me) would be to state that one is quite likely to become a smarter person (at least in terms of understanding our English language) for having read it.

________________________________________________________________________

Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s recently completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, is due next month. It involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

 

Tuesday
Mar282017

Theater Review - "Jekyll & Hyde"

THEATER REVIEW

“Jekyll & Hyde” - Produced by: John W. Engeman Theater– Northport 

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur 

About twenty years ago, when I first heard that the famed thriller novella (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson) was to be staged as a musical, my initial reaction was, ‘What next?’ I feared the moguls of Broadway might eventually give us a musical comedy version of ‘The Bad Seed,’ for heaven’s sake … just to show that nothing is impossible in the wacky world of show business.

Furthermore, I was convinced that ‘Jekyll & Hyde – The Musical’ would soon find itself on the scrap heap of failed productions that depend solely on the popularity of late 19th century literary works for their success.

How wrong I was. Four years later, the melodramatic ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ was still packing in enthusiastic audiences at New York’s Plymouth theater (a record for that grand old playhouse at the time) and the show finally closed after an impressive 1,543 regular performances! It had garnered four Tony nominations … won in the ‘Best Costumes’ category … and was even more triumphant in the prestigious Drama Desk, and Outer Circle Awards groupings. 

Sadly, I never saw the Broadway offering.

The story, of course, is a familiar one … it’s a general analysis of how good and evil can co-exist in the same person … and the production on the Engeman boards now thru April 30 has gambits that smack of Sondheim, Wilde, and Shakespeare … specifically: Sweeney Todd, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Othello.

What the current Engeman show has that those other theatrical creations almost assuredly did not, however, is the most versatile, dynamic, energetic performance that this critic has ever seen! Indeed, any theater aficionados who miss the opportunity to observe Nathaniel Hackman in the demanding dual roles of compassionate Dr. Henry Jekyll and vicious Mr. Edward Hyde, will be depriving themselves of the artistic treat of a lifetime.

Producer Richard Dolce will stage ‘Jekyll & Hyde – The Musical’ at Northport’s delightful Engeman Theater thru April 30th(Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings – with Matinees on Saturday and Sunday). The guess here is that once word gets around about the virtuosity of Mr. Hackman, a majority of those dates will be sold out … just as the matinee was when I attended last Saturday.

In critiques such as this one, it is required that the reviewer support his claims whether they be superlative or disparaging. That said, the critic’s task of reporting on the ‘Jekyll & Hyde’  now under consideration is immediately reduced by half … there is absolutely nothing censorious to say about this polished gem of a show.

Accordingly, we may focus on Mr. Hackman’s considerable skills that made his performance the magical tour de force it became: It goes without saying that this play requires deep insight into the nature good and evil … particularly as they occupy the body of a single individual simultaneously (this, after all, is the plot in a nutshell). In that regard, Nathaniel Hackman immediately makes gasping believers of his audience despite the improbable nature of the proposition.

Then there is the matter of the remarkable lead actor’s singing voice. The man’s appealing baritone is quite simply top-notch. I never heard him miss a single note or beat in two hours. As for his stage presence … Hackman owned the Engeman boards with every step he took, whether as the romantic Dr. Jekyll or the threatening Mr. Hyde.

It would be unfair to reveal much of the detail about the special effects that Director / Choreographer Paul Stancato and Lighting Designer Keith Truax have in store for audiences during the forthcoming month. Suffice it to say that both impresarios combine to take full advantage of Hackman’s energetic skills, and together the trio creates an absolutely unforgettable climactic light show that theatergoers will be talking about for generations.

If that sounds like hyperbole … go see for yourself. Like everyone else in the grand Engeman Theater (including Nathaniel Hackman’s accomplished fellow actors) you’ll stand and cheer this wonderfully gifted artist off the stage.

 

Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s recently completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, is due next month, and will be introduced at the Smithtown Library on Sunday afternoon, May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com


Monday
Mar272017

THEATER REVIEW - "Death Of A Salesman"

THEATER REVIEW

“Death of a Salesman” - Produced by: Star Playhouse– Commack

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

Few, if any occupations are less rewarding than that of traveling salesman. It’s an economic fact of life that legendary playwright Arthur Miller seemed to sense intuitively, and he transferred that insight into breathtaking dialogue with his masterpiece ‘Death of a Salesman.’ The classic is playing now at the luxurious Star Playhouse in Commack.

This drama, centered on over-the-hill Willy Loman (played by Steven Fallis) and his semi-dysfunctional family, is probably one of the most depressing plays ever penned by an American author, though to be fair to the profession that Miller treats as an exercise in loneliness and disappointment, selling can be enormously satisfying. The truth of the old saying that, “…nothing in business ever happens until somebody sells something…” seems to have escaped the otherwise perceptive playwright.

That observation aside, the actors currently undertaking the demanding roles in ‘…Salesman’ are generally faithful in presenting Arthur Miller’s haunting tale of misery and decline in late middle age. Particularly effective is Staci Rosenberg-Simons, who plays Loman’s long-suffering wife, and who defends Willy at every turn, only to be rebuffed by her inconsiderate sons … and even the husband she so fiercely supports.

Ironically, the character whose every word the audience hangs on in this play (which is all about words) is salesman Loman, but it is Willy whose performance is sadly lacking in the articulation necessary to deliver Miller’s masterful lines effectively. At one point, he says to one of his useless sons, “It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it.” It appears that Director, J. Timothy Conlon failed to pay heed to that admonition, otherwise he would never have permitted Fallis to get away with the mumbling that so detracts us from fully appreciating at least half his vital lines.

One of the greatest mumblers of all time, the late William F. Buckley, was nonetheless in demand as a commentator and debater because he had an uncanny knack for enunciating the essential portions of his speeches with dramatic timing and emphasis. It is precisely this quality of delivery that the role of Willy Loman demands … because he frequently (and appropriately) seems to be talking to himself.

It would appear that playwright Miller had the motion picture genre in mind when he wrote ‘Death of a Salesman’ because filmed close-ups and murmured passages can work on film, but the stage whisper is one of the hardest dramatic devices to pull off in the legitimate theater.

This is not to say that ‘Salesman’ as performed at the Star Playhouse is not a satisfying production … indeed it is … especially when Rosenberg-Simons as Linda Loman relates Willy’s sad story in the middle of Act I. Her heartbreaking narrative (addressed so successfully to her sons) to a large degree overcomes Sound Technician Doug Gilman’s shortcomings … which failing, I have to conclude, adds considerably to Willy’s sounding hollow much of the time.

The bare bones set, costumes, and lighting here are adequate; and they should be unobtrusive in this play that is intended to focus our attention on one man’s decline into the depths of despair and depression. Like Willy Loman’s family and neighbors, we are interested not in furniture, clothing, or spotlights … we’re riveted helplessly on this burned-out Salesman’s inevitable descent into oblivion … where one hopes he will, finally, no longer depend on a shoeshine and a smile for the recognition he craves. 

 

Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s recently completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, is due next month, and will be introduced at the Smithtown Library on Sunday afternoon, May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

Tuesday
Mar072017

THEATER REVIEW - "RESPECT" 

  

THEATER REVIEW

“Respect” - Produced by: Theatre Three– Port Jefferson

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur 

Leave it to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson … when they promise to bring Broadway quality entertainment to the 106-year-old playhouse on Main Street, they always deliver. Currently Mary Powers is at the helm directing “Respect,” Dorothy Marcic’s retrospective of songs that have defined the evolving position of women in American society throughout the past century.

Appropriately, things get underway with “Bird in a Gilded Cage” (my grandmother would have preferred “After the Ball” though she was never allowed to sing it, I’m told) and Lori Beth Belkin does a pretty good job with the lyrical plaint. Jessica Contino lightens things up with a cute rendition of “I Want to be Loved by You,” the boop-boop-a-doop come-on that maintains the show’s theme of female subservience in the early 1900s without engaging in too much self-pity.

Of course no musical genre can generate the precise degree of sympatico that deprived 20th century women deserve, like ‘The Blues’ can. To fill that prerequisite, author Marcic has selected “God Bless the Child,” and in this production, the nearly impossible-to-sing Billie Holliday ballad is assigned to Amanda-Camille. The much more manageable “Body and Soul” would have been a lot easier for Amanda-Camille to croon, while delivering the same message.

The fourth member of the performing quartet (all clad in black blouses, black skirts, and diamond necklaces) is the show’s narrator, Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni. She helps out vocally on some of the earlier tunes, but turns in probably the best performance of Act I with a tender “Que Sera, Sera.”

Logically, the brief second act (the outfits have become black pantsuits) illustrated the arrival of the Liberated Woman with the show’s biggest surprise, the catchy “You Don’t Own Me.”

One can understand why the often impudent and always irreverant Rush Limbaugh invariably used this number as the introduction for his wiseguy shots at the Feminist Movement, wherein he ridiculed some activist statement or other on the part of Helen Reddy, Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem … etc. The few chuckles in the audience when the ‘Respect’ quartet launched into the number, with its interesting changes of key, quickly changed to cheers as the four women interpreted the 1963 Leslie Gore hit single to perfection.

Apart from “You Don’t Own Me” and a nicely choreographed version of Nancy Sinatra’s number one worldwide hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” Act II of ‘Respect’ is more frenetic, but considerably less satisfying musically than  Act I (where are “Tammy” and “My Man” for instance?).

However, the one consistently magical component of this memorable production is the exquisite background music provided by Steve McCoy (pianist/conductor), Don Larson (drums), and  in particular, David Grudzinski who serves up the beautiful bass line flawlessly.

When the final encore had been sung at last weekend’s performance of ‘Respect,’ and the final bows were taken, I scanned the audience to confirm what seemed to be the case … and sure enough … every patron in the sellout crowd was standing, most still applauding, and many were singing.

 

Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s recently completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, is due next month, and will be introduced at the Smithtown Library on Sunday afternoon, May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com