Sad news: My critics conference in Connecticut meant I missed the July 18 memorial service at City Theatre for feisty, inventive, indomitable Roz Ruch, who was so important in marketing and P.R. to the Public Theater for so many years, and then to City Theatre, too. Roz got things done. She had a personality with edges, enabling her to cut through the B.S. and get to the heart of any issue. She took no prisoners. But you always knew you were dealing with someone who loved theater passionately and knew a great deal about it, too.

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Hello, is there anybody there? You might wonder -- about me, that is, since this is my first post in six weeks.

My excuse is that I had to gear up and then run the 2010 annual conference of the American Theatre Critics Association, held July 13-18 at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., and at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. Then I had to recover. Theater critics confer hard, but they also party hard, so there was plenty of burning the candle at both ends, starting each day with an ATCA meeting over breakfast at the Radisson Hotel in New London and ending it in the wee hours at Blue Gene's Pub at the O'Neill. If you want a taste of what it was like, take a look at the ATCA website, where I've been posting some of the conference's doings. I hope to have an article about some of this in the PG, soon.

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STRATFORD, Ontario -- Anticipation (see previous post, below) doesn't always know best; it often sets you up for a fall. "Kiss Me, Kate" wasn't the transcendent experience I had hoped for -- although strong on the comedy, to my taste it was often crassly exaggerated, out-farcing farce.

And "The Tempest" doesn't feel quite finished, because it isn't -- the opening isn't for a week, so they're still rehearsing and polishing and it's inappropriate for me to have any opinion. In fact artistic director/director Des McAnuff was there to give the audience a pre-curtain speech and then to give the cast notes afterward, so those of us at the stage door had a pleasant chat among ourselves while waiting a half-hour to see the actors. (I don't ever ask for actors' autograpphs, but if I'd had my copy of Plummer's juicy autobiography with me, I would have broken my rule.)

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So I jumped on the bus Tuesday morning with two dozen Post-Gazette theater fans for my annual five day trip to Canada's Shaw Festival (three shows) and Stratford Shakespeare Festival (four). Annual, indeed. This is either the 29th or 30th consecutive year I've conducted this tour, first for Pitt's PIP program and for about the last two decades for the PG. I love it. I must, or why would I still do it?

Mary couldn't make the trip this year, so I tapped a favorite traveling companion, Bingo O'Malley, who's as good a traveler and companion as he is an actor.

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Monday, June 14 (no matter what it says above, that's when I wrote this) --

Noting how many plays I see or considering that I may see a half-dozen on a trip before I get to write about them, I'm often asked how I keep them all straight.

Assuming I do.

Mainly, I take good notes, which I may or may not use. But while it's always best to write soon after seeing a show - the next day is best - if it must be several days or even a week, the thoughts do have a chance to coalesce around a few central ideas. The result is usually a shorter review, for which I know even my well-wishers are gratified.

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