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Major Shifts in Hartford’s Art World

Hartford Advocate

July 01, 2010

Don’t Think of It as Losing a Theater

The pending relocation of Cinema City, the four-screen art-house movie theater tucked away in a quiet corner across from Hartford’s water treatment plant, has engendered considerable angst among its loyal fans.

In an open letter to the Advocate, Bill Sencio calls the planned razing of the theater he first visited 15 years ago “heart breaking.”

Bow-Tie Cinemas, based in Ridgefield, Conn., is selling the property to the Metropolitan District Commission, which operates the water treatment plant across the street. Bow-Tie will move Cinema City to its 17-screen multiplex on New Park Avenue, The Palace Theaters.

MDC paid $2 million for the property and will eventually use it for a $415 million expansion of the water and sewer plant. Bow-Tie is also getting $75,000 for the move. Cinema City will close on July 22 and reopen in its new location the next day.

Cinema City at the Palace, as the new theater will be known, will get screens 11 through 17, five screens in all, or one more than it has now. That does little to appease Sencio, who writes: “Bow Tie’s plan to move the Cinema City property to the Palace Theater across town is doomed to failure, a gross miscalculation on their part due to the poor quality of the Palace theater management, and the fact that while the films shown at Cinema City were unique, it was the place itself that made it so special.”

Liz Godby — the Palace Theater manager — tries to reassure Cinema City’s fans.

“It’s a sad thing, but we’re not losing it,” she says. “It’s just moving to a bigger place.”

— Daniel D’Ambrosio

Michael Wilson Leaves Hartford Stage

When Michael Wilson, a hotshot 30-something director from Houston’s Alley Theater virtually unknown on the East Coast, assumed the reins of Hartford Stage in 1998, a lot of local arts observers thought he was insane. His predecessor, the much-loved Mark Lamos, had given the theater a Euroclassical sheen, trafficking in Shakespeare, Restoration comedy and German Expressionism.

The first thing Wilson promised was a 10-year exploration of the works of Tennessee Williams, a writer whose works had not yet been rediscovered and redeemed by the theater world at large. Then he announced that he’d make an annual event out of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol — the chestnut tops the list of the most unimaginative, commercially minded programming choices in contemporary American theater.

But Wilson had a rare talent and vision. His take on Tennessee Williams was not seedy or besotted or isolatingly Southern — it was slick, vibrant, virtually operatic, universal. Wilson’s retelling of the Scrooge nightmare was a riveting, creepy ghost story, not sentimental humbug. It created a new community of local theatergoers, and an equally strong community of actors who returned every year to put it on.

A dozen years later, Wilson’s bewildering opening gambit now looks brilliant. Connecticut critics and audiences continually raved, and when Wilson’s productions of Matthew Barber’s Enchanted April and 10 plays by Horton Foote (nine of them strung together as The Orphans; Home Cycle) moved to Broadway, New York had occasion to concur. The lure of further New York opportunities is the main reason Wilson announced last week that he’ll be leaving Hartford Stage following its 2010-11 season. His departure looms just as Hartford Stages completes major architectural renovations that have been dreamed about since before Wilson got there. Let’s hope Hartford Stage finds someone half as crazy and creative to succeed him.

— Christopher Arnott

Wadsworth Curator to Join the Met

Betsy Kornhauser, chief curator of American painting and sculpture at Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, is on her way to New York to become the senior curator of American painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Atheneum spokeswoman Kim Reynolds says the move for Kornhauser after 26 years at the Wadsworth reflects well both on Kornhauser and on the Wadsworth, the oldest public art museum in the nation, founded in 1842.

“People don’t quite realize the stature of the museum here,” says Reynolds. “This speaks to that. The Wadsworth is a widely respected museum and its curators are recognized around the world.”

Reynolds says Kornhauser, who is on vacation this week, left “extremely big shoes to fill,” but by putting the Wadsworth’s collection of American art on the international map she has virtually guaranteed a slate of highly qualified candidates for the job she is leaving.

“Our Hudson River School Collection is viewed as one of the most important in the world as a result of Betsy’s research and publishing on it,” says Reynolds. “It’s certainly tough to replace someone like Betsy, but this curatorship is viewed as one of the preeminent positions in the field.”

The search for Kornhauser’s replacement will begin in earnest in July. Kornhauser begins her new job at the Metropolitan on Sept. 1, and will continue to work at the Atheneum until then.

— Daniel D’Ambrosio

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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