By Geoff Elterich
Downtown New Britain generally isn’t the first place one thinks of when discussing theater, but The Hole in the Wall Theater aims to challenge that notion.
The small downtown theater has provided an outlet for theater aficionados in New Britain since 1972. What began as The Hole in the Wall Bookstore on Oak Street, has turned into one of the state’s premier locations for quality local theater. Since moving to its current location at 116 Main St. in 2006, the theater has had over 50 shows, according to its website. The combination of a talented cast and crew with an intimate setting make for a great afternoon or evening in downtown New Britain.
With renovations to the building and its surroundings downtown, The Hole in the Wall Theater is better than ever. Newly appointed Board President Jim Williams believes the investment the city has made in its downtown district will help local businesses and the burgeoning art scene, a scene they helped build.
“With the police station right across the street and new businesses opening up around us, I know that it is both our hope, as well as the hope of other area businesses, that the construction will result in safer and more robust business in the area,” said Williams.
The theater’s current production, The Pirates of Penzance, is an entertaining interpretation of the comedic opera, first performed in 1879. The play is best known for its song, “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” which has been covered or parodied countless times. The story centers on young pirate Frederic (played by Peter Bailey) who disavows his mates and the life of a pirate. He’d rather be a decent man and marry the gorgeous Mabel (Johanna Regan), daughter of Major General Stanley (David Schancupp). High jinks ensue between the Major General and the band of pirates, who want to sail away with all of his daughters.
The musical, directed and choreographed by the talented Emily Trudeau of Cheshire, is a mix of silly sword fighting, flirty romance, and beautiful singing. All performers and staff are volunteers, but that doesn’t mean they lack for talent. Many are part of the Connecticut Theater Company and have performed in such well known productions as Avenue Q and Les Miserables. The small, cozy atmosphere of the 99 seat theater illuminates their talent and creates a powerful connection between performer and audience. The set is simple; a few backdrops and a chest with “General Stanley” written across the front, a fitting piece of scenery for the Hardware City.
Williams says the response to the show has been very enthusiastic. On a recent Sunday afternoon, there were people of all ages enjoying the show. Amy Griswold, a first time patron, was very impressed by the talent, in particular the singing voice of Johanna Regan.
“The actress who played Mabel brought a tremendous presence to the part with her expressive voice. Her diction and range was natural and effortless. The entire performance proved you don’t need to leave the city to enjoy live theater,” said Griswold.
The Hole in the Wall Theater’s mission states that, “Theater should be available to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.” Since its inception, it has been run on a donation basis, with all proceeds going directly to production costs. The Theater prides itself on its connection with the community and its role in helping to shape the city’s art scene.
“The theater has a reputation for taking risks and fostering theater not only as a mode of entertainment, but as an art form,” said williams
The theater will continue to build on its reputation throughout the summer as it hosts Bill Arnold’s award-winning adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in July and August. The performers and crew are very excited for the performance, and so should any fan of live theater.
For a true theater experience, residents of central Connecticut need look no further than New Britain’s Hole in the Wall.