Hartford was once the center of my world. Well, the center was really G.Fox & Co., the legendary department store of the 20th Century, where they would deliver my packages to my car as I left the parking garage.
Well, that was long, long ago and G.Fox is no more. Hartford declined as did other cities, along with all inner city department stores, but its revival as a vibrant cultural center has recently become noticed.
When a friend suggested we drive to Hartford to see Horton Foote’s hilarious comedy “Dividing The Estate” at the Hartford Stage Company, I thought it would be a chance to see what’s going on in the Connecticut state capital.
It turned out to be a multi-faceted day, and one that anyone can repeat, to make a fine day trip.
First of all, I imagine those who read this column regularly are totally bored with my lifetime love affair with Connecticut, but after all, I am a native child. So, I’ll say it once again, the ride from central Dutchess County through the Connecticut hills along Route 4 to Farmington is not only lovely and relaxing, it is also replete with diversions enough to make at least a full weekend trip.
We took the Sharon, Goshen, Litchfield, Harwinton, Burlington route, with lots of “oohs” and “aahs” along the way.
Kudos must go to my friend who had arranged the tickets and had even searched out the best restaurant for an early dinner. It’s a pleasure to have female help on these ventures, because as we all know, husbands are better for driving, mechanical difficulties, carrying umbrellas and the like. I know I don’t have to elaborate on that one.
Hartford does impress, as one approaches the last few miles on Interstate 84. The gold dome of the state capitol beckons, and as we saw, is surrounded by the bucolic Bushnell Park. Another impressive landmark is the Soldiers and Sailors Arch, a monstrous Civil War monument, iconic in Hartford, but now too narrow for cars to pass through. Its remarkable frieze depicts scenes of farmers and others who went to the Civil War, and of emancipated slaves.
There seemed to be lots of new buildings in the center of the city, some were luxurious apartment buildings, some office buildings, but all were signs of progress, along with clean city streets. We even saw Hydrogen Fuel Cell buses, which we were told make a loop around the city, taking passengers to all the sites.
We found parking fairly effortlessly, and proceeded to DISH, the chosen restaurant on Main Street, only a couple of blocks from the Hartford Stage Theater.
We had a very pleasant dinner of lobster specials for the men, and tuna and salmon for the ladies, along with a nice Pinot Grigio. Fear not, meat eaters, there are plenty of meat dishes on this eclectic menu, and you would not want for choice. We also noticed that the “Happy Hour” in this establishment goes from 3 to 7, giving one lots of time to relax with friends. Service was pleasant, and the décor comfortable. We did not have time for dessert, which was probably a very good thing, as no one wanted to risk sleeping during the play. (Oh, by the way, we got a discount of 20% off our entrees, because we were attending the Hartford Stage production.)
The Hartford Stage has morphed in to a major regional theatre, somewhat like the Long Wharf in New Haven, with its own building (and parking right next door) and arena like seating. We had down front seats, but I’m pretty sure that all the seats are good in this space.
“Dividing the Estate” is a tour de force, portraying a dysfunctional family at its worst/best, as the matriarch reaches the end of her life. Hilarious almost all the way, it is the “light” version of “August, Osage County.” Lois Smith, a veteran actress, plays the matriarch with delightful verve. Hallie Foote, daughter of the recently deceased playright, plays one of the daughters with matchless deadpan. All of the actors are exceptional. Suffice it to say, the evening was a brilliant success, at half the Broadway prices.
I could go on about “Dividing The Estate”, but I won’t, since it closes July 5.
However, Horton Foote’s “Orphans’ Home Cycle” will be performed for the first time ever this fall at Hartford Stage, before it goes to Broadway. So here is a chance to experience the work of this writer, who clearly has the ability to portray the southern mind, he who wrote the screenplay for “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
I found Hartford Stage well worth a return visit. I am intrigued by its production quality, by the seating arrangements, the parking next door, and some other unusual facts. For instance, they have a very complete acting study program for Youth and Adults of all ages, including Acting for Film, Acting for Musical Theatre, Improv, “Shakes” for Children (Shakespeare), Comedy acting, etc. Makes me want to sign up! www.hartfordstage.org
Another great new attraction in Hartford is the Connecticut Science Center, a marvelous glass structure, just opened on June 13, overlooking the Connecticut River, and designed by world-famous Cesar Pelli. It promises to be a great attraction. I’m only sorry that we didn’t have a chance to experience it, but it will certainly be a reason to return. www.ctsciencecenter.org
Another great landmark for me, which has only improved over the years, is the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Arts. It is America’s oldest public art museum. I’ve written about it before in my columns, but I’ll probably be doing that again. It’s a gem. www.wadsworthatheneum.org
Take the whole family and enjoy the history and culture of our neighboring state.
(published in Northern Dutchess News, April 29, 2009)