Westside's Guide to Theater and Stage

Lynda Ayers-Frederick
Lynda Ayers-Frederick
Flora Lynn Isaacson

Avenue Q

Musical Treat Scores with Large, Enthusiastic Audience at Novato Theater

Company Award-winning Director Carl Jordan has brilliantly directly Avenue Q, which recently opened at NTC. This outrageous romp features both puppets and human actors, and is known for its high energy naughty fun. Most of the characters in the show are puppets operated by actors on stage. Both the human characters and puppet characters sing. This musical is set in several tenements on a street in New York City. Avenue Q is an American musical in two acts, conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who wrote the music and lyrics. AvenueQ

The book was written by Jeff Whitty. Avenue Q is a coming-of-age parable, addressing and satirizing the issues and anxieties associated with entering adulthood. Its characters lament that, as children, they were assured by their parents and children’s television programs such as Sesame Street that they were “special” and “could do anything,” but as adults, they have discovered to their surprise and dismay that in the real world their options are limited, and they are no more “special” than anyone else. Avenue Q opened on Broadway in July 2003 where it won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book, and rated 23rd on the list of longest-running shows in Broadway history.

Director Carl Jordan has put together a wonderful cast and crew for Avenue Q: Robert Nelson from Leading Ladies is fabulous as Princeton, and Melissa Claire fields the show as Lucy. Dell Parker exhibits fine energy as Gary Coleman. Set designer Michael Walraven has created a colorful inner city with impressive lighting by Frank Sarubbi.  Special credit goes to Mary Nagler, who has done magical work with the creation of the puppets. Musical Director Monica Norcia keeps the Avenue Q band moving at a brisk pace. Avenue Q is a real treat for all of us, and judging by the warm welcome of the house, will have a successful run.

Avenue Q will run from October 10 to November 9, 2014, at the Novato TheaterPlayhouse, 5420 Nave Drive, Suite C, in Novato. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2p.m.  For tickets, go online to www.novatotheatercompany.org or call 415883-4498. Coming up next at NTC will be “Inspecting Carol” by Daniel Sullivan, fromNovember 29 through December 20, 2014.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

November 2014

SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE

It’s an engaging show, Slaughterhouse Five, especially if you are a Kurt Vonnegut fan. And given our continued involvement in war, certainly au courant, raising issues about the physical and psychological destruction battle wreaks, and the reasons behind government decisions to continue bombing when the enemy (in this case Nazi Germany) is close to defeat.

The very precise choreographed movement throughout the play adds a visual element reminiscent of a well-trained military unit. The 90 minute play itself jumps through time and space as much as its main character Billy Pilgrim—played by several actors: Ryan Hayes, as adult Billy, Brian Martin as Young Billy, and Alun Anderman/Myles Cence alternating performances as Boy Billy.

Performed without an intermission, Slaughterhouse Five is Billy’s journey, or rather several journeys, in and out of Dresden, Germany before, during and after the firestorm bombing that incinerated the city that was once considered the cultural center of Northern Germany. One such journey takes Billy to the planet Tralfalmador where, unlike earth, peace is known to reign on occasion, and Billy finds respite from earthly conflict. The narrator Man, presumably Vonnegut, (Dave Sikula) wanders in and out of the action much as he does in the novel itself. Adapted for stage by Eric Simonson of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, Slaughterhouse Five is directed by Custom Made Artistic Director Brian Katz, who rises to the most challenging aspect of the piece—keeping the threads of the story visible, a task much like dressing an octopus. If there is any annoying aspect in the production, it might be the blinding flashes from the upstage baton of stage lights that assault the senses of anyone sitting in the center section of the venue. One can view this as a taste of torture experienced by the American soldiers placed in the P.O.W. holding cell of the slaughterhouse after capture by the Germans, or just a dramatic indicator of change in time and space.

The ensemble’s work is stellar, keeping the pace moving forward continuously. Among the highlights is the intense monologue about poisoning an annoying dog delivered by Sam Tillis as Paul Lazzaro –so reminiscent of the character Jerry in Albee’s Zoo Story. Speaking of Edward Albee, next up at Custom Made is his Three Tall Woman.

Slaughterhouse Five (or the Children’s Crusade) Thur-Sat 8pm; Sun. 7pm; Sun Oct 5 & 12 3pm. at Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough St (at Bush) SF. Tickets: $20-$50. Discounts available for Seniors, Students & TBA members. www.custommade.org/slaughterhouse.
Linda Ayres-Frederick

THE FOX ON THE FAIRWAY

The Fox on the Fairway is a hilarious farce by the incomparable Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor and Leading Ladies). It takes us on a romp which pulls the rug out from underneath the stuffy members of a private country club. This play is a charmingly nutty adventure about love, life, and man’s eternal love affair with golf.

Bingham (Louis Schilling) President of the Quail Valley Country Club, is in a difficult position, less by finding out that his newly hired hand, Justin (Derek Jepsen) is in love with Louise (Lydia Singleton), the waitress at the clubhouse, but by finding out that the golfer he thought would play for his club has switched sides - recruited by his counterpart and opponent, the cocky and arrogant Dickie (Javier Alarcon), and the huge bet he had foolishly wagered is likely to be lost. Fortunately, he discovers that Justin is actually quite a good golfer and finagles his nomination. 

Justin does not disappoint and has a huge lead, when close to its end the tournament is interrupted by bad weather.  When Justin learns that Louise has lost the engagement ring he gave her - she accidentally flushed it down the toilet - he comes unglued.  The game resumes the next day, but Justin loses the lead and, upset, takes an unfortunate swing, breaking his arm.

Bingham is desperate, and the appearance of his wife Muriel (Sumi Naendran) complicates the matter, as she catches him much too close to Pamela (Eileen Fisher), his sex-starved Vice-President.

Can Bingham find a replacement for Justin to win the game, win the wager, and get his life in order?  Come and see this madcap comedy at Ross Valley Players, and find out. Julianna Rees, the Director, knows how to keep the machinery percolating -The Fox on the Fairway barrels along.  Ken Rowland’s clubhouse set is suitably sporty, and the costumes by Michael A. Berg are swanky.

The Fox on the Fairway knocked one straight off the tee and hit a hole-in-one, as it mixes golf, romance, and fashion, keeping the audience in stitches.

The Fox on the Fairway previewed Sept. 11th runs through Sun, Oct. 12th. Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.  All performances take place at the Barn Theatre, home of the Ross Valley Players - 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA.  Tickets: 415-456-9555, x 1, or www.RossValleyPlayers.com.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be Jane Austen’s Persuasion, adapted by Jennifer LeBlanc, directed by Mary Ann Rodgers, from November 14th through December 14th, 2014.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

October 2014

Leading Ladies

Our play opens with a clever abridged version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and then proceeds to tell the story about two English Shakespearean actors, Leo Clark (Craig Christianson) and Jack Gable (Robert Nelson), who find themselves down on their luck, so they are performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” in the Moose Lodge circuit in the Amish county of Pennsylvania.

When they hear that an old lady by the name of Florence (Christina Jacqua) in York, PA, is about to die and leave her fortune to her two long-lost English nephews, they resolve to pass themselves off as her beloved relatives and get the cash.

When they discover that “Max” and “Steve” are actually “Maxine” and “Stephen,” they continue on undaunted, in drag. Leo falls for Florence’s actual niece Meg (Laura Domingo), while Jack swoons over Florence’s part-time aide, Audrey (Laura Espino).

Florence recovers just as the pair arrives, but they decide to keep on, both to try to outlast her health and to stay close to the objects of their interest. Leo convinces Meg, who is enamored with Shakespeare and a fan of Jack and Leo, to put on a production at Florence’s estate, to give himself more of an opportunity to be with her, both as Leo and Maxine. Meanwhile, Meg’s fiancé Duncan grows increasingly suspicious of the “leading ladies.”

With this play, Ken Ludwig again proves his reputation as the master of American farce, so well established with “Lend Me a Tenor.”

Craig Christianson steals the show as Leo Clark. His performance is varied, subtle and complex, far beyond such broad comedy. Leo’s dialects are quite different for each facet of his character: Shakespearean actor, actor not performing, lover, woman and actress. Christianson’s vocal performance never falters.

Robert Nelson as Jack Gable is in control at all times – knowing how much of Gable’s frustration to show each of the other characters and how much to demonstrate to the audience. He has some priceless stage business as the deaf and dumb Stephanie about how she is to understand someone else speaking.

There are so many other highlights. This is a show in which the wise-cracks come only from smart alecks, and chief among them is Doc Myers, portrayed by the amazing Michael Walraven.

Laura Domingo walks a more subtle line as Meg. Neither hard-boiled nor dim-witted, Meg is serious and smart and concerned with the interplay of honor and desire. David Kester plays the Rev. Duncan Woolery as oily and superior.

Marie Meier’s and Janice Deneau’s costumes are wonderful, and Michael Walraven’s set is a masterpiece. Superbly staged and paced by Kris Neely, Leading Ladies at the Novato Theater Company is magnificently realized.

Leading Ladies opened August 22nd — September 14th, at Novato Theater Company. Performances: Fri, Sat 8 p.m. and Sun 2 p.m. NTC is located at 5420 Nave Drive in Novato. For tickets, call 415-883-4488, or go online at www.novatotheatercompany.org.

Coming up next at NTC will be Avenue Q, with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and book by Jeff Whitty, from October 9th through November 9th, 2014.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

September 2014

2014 Spring Fringe of Marin—Program II

The Fringe of Marin now celebrates its 33rd season with some of the most innovative work of San Francisco Bay Area playwrights, directors and actors.

The Festival was established by Dr. Annette Lust in 1995, Professor Emerita at Dominican University. She ran the Festival until her death in February, 2013. Last spring, Gina Pandiani, a 1985 Dominican graduate, stepped in as Managing Director with Production Manager, Pamela Rand—and so the Festival continues on.

Program II, connsisting of four plays and one solo performance, opened with Tuesdays in the Park with River Apple by C.J. Erlich and directed by Robin Schild, who has a flair for comedy in this satirical look at motherhood as four young mothers meet while watching their toddlers.

Claudia Rosa gives an amazing performance as Zsusanna, who is new to the city and the mother of 4-year-old River Apple. New to full-time motherhood, she tries to juggle her various roles. Ms. Rosa uses very expressive body language throughout. She is ably supported by three other young mothers. Gigi Benson (Jessica) gives a very animated performance. Colette Gunn plays Abby, a sympathetic role and Victoria Vann is Isham, who is very shy. Micah Coate makes a sexy entrance as Lark, a nanny to the children.

The Next Big Thing by Robert Wanderman and directed by Pamela Rand is “vulture capitalism.” When the owner’s hands are in the crapper, vulture sweeps in and swallows and turns it about. Jeffrey Schmidt as Abe knows how to take the stage and gives a convincing performance along with Victoria Vann as Casey and Duncan Maddox as Bill.

Let Me Go, written by Shai Regan is very sensitively directed by Gary Green. In this amazing play, Amelia, played by Micah Coate, learns how to deal with posttraumatic stress with the help of her fiancée Jason played by Ricky Montes, after she sees him attacked.

The second half of the program opens with Jinshin Jiko written by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by Amy Crumpacker with Sheila Devitt as Assistant Director. This play takes place on a train. The expressions and body language of the passengers are brilliantly choreographed. Morgan, an uptight businesswoman (Chelsea Zephyr) is hysterical when the train is stalled (she has a presentation to make). She imagines a Japanese Woman, Yurei (Mimu Tsujimura) is attacking her. The other people on the train are Sheila Devitt, a Dutch woman, Vonn Scott Bair, a Dutch man, RJ Castaneda, a Japanese man and Sam Tillis as Kenneth.

The final play is a full-scale production, Little Moscow written by Aleks Merilo and directed by Greg Young starring Rick Roitinger as the Tailor. Employing a complete set of a tailor’s shop, with projections on the back wall. A real tour de force for Rick Roitinger as an aging Russian immigrant tailor whose recollections of man’s crimes against humanity and love for his country conflict with his love for his daughter.

What a wealth of talent in Program II! The only fly in the ointment was the poor acoustics of Angelico Concert Hall at Dominican University. This could be improved with a sound system or the actors could have mikes as much of the dialog was lost.Flora Lynn Isaacson

Failure: A Love Story

1928 is the last year of each of the Fail sisters’ lives. Nelly (Kathryn Zdan) was the first of the Fail girls to die, followed soon after by her sisters Jenny June (Liz Sklar) and Gerty (Megan Pearl Smith). As with so many things in life—blunt objects, disappearances and consumption—they never saw death coming.

A magical, musical fable that traces the sisters’ triumphs and defeats in the rickety two-story building by the Chicago River that was the family home and clock shop. This funny, and profoundly wise play by Philip Dawkins, reminds us that in the end, all that remains is love.

Notwithstanding the premature demise of the Fail sisters, it’s a lighthearted production. Only the two men survive into old age. John N. Fail (Patrick Kelly Jones) is washed up on shore as a baby and adopted by the Fails, and Mortimer Mortimer (Brian Herndon), the earnest gentleman caller who loves each of the sisters in turn.

The play opens with the cast inviting the audience to sing-along In the Good Old Summertime and Let Me Call You Sweetheart. A marvelous cast briskly directed by Jasson Minadakis, who doubles as narrator. The stories include Mortimer’s bittersweet, fruitless search for love, the loneliness of his “almost” brother-in-law, John N. Fail, Nelly’s silly but fetching girlishness and Jenny June’s goal of swimming across the rough waters.

The actors also accompany themselves on a variety of instruments, e.g. ukulele, trombone, stand up bass, drums, piano, as they sing hits of the 1920’s, arranged by Sound Designer, Composer, and Music Director Chris Houston.

Other important inanimate characters occupy this household as well–a few birds, a snake named Moses, and a dog called Pete. Since the passage of time is the recurrent theme, clocks and timepieces abound with Nina Ball’s effective set design. The lighting by York Kennedy and costumes by Jacqueline Firkins contribute to a memorable evening whose theme, storytelling, is a key to surviving human tragedy resonates long after the play ends.

Failure: A Love Story, Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets 415-388-5208 or www.marintheatre.org. Coming up next will be Fetch Clay, Make Man by Will Power, directed by Derrick Sanders (Fences) Aug. 14-Sep. 7, Flora Lynn Isaacson

July/August 2014

Seminar

Seminar by Theresa Rebeck, directed by Amy Glazer, is a comedy about four aspiring novelists who are paying $500 a week to take a writing seminar with a famous international author. According to Artistic Director Bill English, "the word 'seminar' suggests a classroom—supposedly an environment that is structured to be a safe place to learn—but in Theresa Rebeck's world, Seminar is far from safe."

Set in present day New York City, Seminar follows Kate (Lauren English), an aspiring novelist who overcompensates trying to prove her writing abilities, and Martin (James Wagner) who is struggling financially and afraid to show anyone his work. Douglas (Patrick Russell) is the nephew of a famous playwright from Harvard. He is a good writer but a bit of a "name dropper." Izzy (Natalie Mitchell) writes well from the start. She figures at the center of the romantic conflict within the group. Their professor, Leonard (Charlie Shaw Robinson)'s career as a writer has been legendary. Seminar takes place in Kate's Upper West Side apartment, handsomely designed by Bill English. The play captures aspects of their lives including their writing, romance, conflict, and the future.

This play is more driven by characters than by plot, but full of satire and quite entertaining. Leonard the Professor, an amazing role for Charles Shaw Robinson, who brings out his character's humanity in every moment.

Amy Glazer keeps the action moving at a crisp pace, accentuating Rebeck's comedy. The costumes by Abra Berman are imaginative and appropriate for the characters.

Seminar is a fascinating presentation of the truth about human dynamics and writers' fragile egos. The play runs April 20-June 14, 2014 at the SF Playhouse, 2nd Fl., Kensington Park Hotel at 450 Post Street (Mason/Powell).

Tues-Thur: 7 pm; Fri-Sat: 8 pm; Sat: 3 pm; and select Sundays (May 18, June 1 and June 8) 2 pm Info/tickets 415-677-9596 or go to www.sfplayhouse.org.

Coming up next at SF Playhouse will be Into the Woods by James Lapine (book) and Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics), directed by Susi Damilano, June 24-September 6, 2014. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Other Desert Cities

In Ross Valley Players' 2012 Pulitzer Prize Nominee for Best Drama, Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Phoebe Moyer, the play's name refers to a guide sign on eastbound Interstate 10 in California, which indicates that the freeway is headed towards Indio, and "other desert cities" (the rest of the Coachella Valley).

It's Christmas 2004 holiday, when the family of Polly (Ellen Brooks) and Lyman Wyatt (Dick Martin) gather in Palm Springs. Their daughter Brooke Wyeth (Jennifer Gregory) returns home after six years. Brooke's brother, Trip Wyeth (Peter Warden) is also present. Polly's sister Silda Grauman (Kristine Ann Lowry), a recovering alcoholic, is also visiting on a break from rehab. Polly and Lyman are Republicans while Silda is liberal. The sisters wrote a series of MGM comedies in the 1960's. The wonderful set design by Ronald Krempetz is of an upscale, easy living, desert style living room.

When daughter Brooke announces she is about to publish a memoir dredging up a pivotal and tragic event in the family's history—a wound they don't want to have reopened—the suicide of her late brother Henry, who had been involved in a radical underground subculture. The holiday reunion is thrown into turmoil as family members struggle to come to terms with their past and realizes some secrets cannot stay buried forever.

The cast could not be better under Phoebe Moyer's firm hand. The actors never strike a false note. In their speech rhythms and body language with one another, their relaxed intimacy or wary distress, their camaraderie or distance, their easy banter or silent hostile regard, they are unmistakably a family.

Other Desert Cities runs at Ross Valley Players May 15-June 15. Thur: 7:30 pm, Fri-Sat: 8 pm, and Sun: 2 pm At the Barn Theatre, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Info/tickets: 415-456-9553, x 1 or www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be Old Money by Wendy Wasserstein, directed by Kim Bromley, July 18-August 17, 2014. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing at African-American Shakespeare Company is definitely noteworthy. Under the expertly imaginative hand of Artistic Director L. Peter Callender, this rich plot of twists and turns that explores courting and romance gains momentum from beginning to end. Set in post WWII, the music of Ella Fitgerald enriches the sharp Shakespearean comedy. Callender's cast is fearless dealing with the serious tones of honor and shame that are interspersed between the more exuberant aspects of love. Nowhere will you find a more delightfully sassy Beatrice (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) who meets her match in Benedick (Ryan Vincent Anderson). Their sparring wit contrasts the innocent puppy dog love of Claudio (Twon Marcel) and his lovely young Hero (Danielle Doyle). The story of the two pairs of lovers is enhanced by an ensemble that features solid performances from Don Pedro (Kelvyn Mitchell), Don John (Jim Gessner) and Leonato (Dwight Dean Mahabir) to name a few. Tom Segal's Choreography and Maureen "Mo" Stones's Costumes add their talents to give this Much Ado even more pizzazz.

AASC is this year's worthy recipient of the Paine-Knickerbocker Award by the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Named for the former theatre critic of The SF Chronicle, this Award is presented to an organization that has made a continuing contribution to Bay Area Theatre.

Much Ado About Nothing completes AASC's 2013/14 Season. With such an array of talent, their next season promises to be equally exciting. Located at Burial Clay Theatre in the African American Art & Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., SF (near Webster) free parking. Tickets: Box Office or Brown Paper Tickets 1-800-838-3006. www.african-americanshakes.org. Linda Ayres-Frederick

The Crucible

Set in 17th century Salem, this classic story of individuals standing up against the corruption of their society was Miller's allegory for the witch-hunts of the 1950's House Un-American Activities Committee led by Senator Joe McCarthy. The Crucible shows the persecution and state-sponsored murder of twenty persons by their friends and neighbors for alleged affiliations with the supernatural world. It also shows how power in the wrong hands can be wielded and opposed in any community—an issue that remains to this day.

As a work of theatre, The Crucible is one of Miller's best examples of his mastery of subtext. And while this production as a whole is not done in a style that demonstrates Miller's genius, there are many elements that remain praiseworthy.

It is always difficult to know whether artistic choices are directorial. One in particular is the surprising lack of subtlety in the portrayal of Deputy Governor Danforth (Paul Jennings). A man in a position of power has no need to prove it by shouting angrily. There is nothing more frightening than such a man who benevolently imparts a despicable point of view.

Equally confusing is why if both Proctor (Peter Townley) and Goody Proctor (Megan Briggs) repeatedly mention the emotional chill in their home, she would greet her husband open-heartedly with a welcoming smile. In a society where dancing is considered a sin, casual touching and shouting strike false notes, and feel completely antithetical to the culture.

The Crucible directed by Stuart Bousel also presents challenges in the trial scenes when the young girls demonstrate hysteria. This alternates with dialogue among the judges which dialogue unnecessarily gets completely lost. Picking up cues without talking over others can build in volume to a more dramatic effect.

In the majority of scenes, the ensemble works well together keeping the action apace with notable performances by Reverend John Hale (Nicholas Trengove), Goody Putnam (Melissa Clason), Ezekiel Cheever (Vince Faso), Rebecca Nurse (Carole Swann), Francis Nurse (Richard Wenzel) Mary Warren (Alisha Ehrlich) and Giles Corey (Ron Talbot). As always at CMT the sound design (Liz Ryder) is stellar.

Even with these reservations, The Crucible is an American classic worth seeing. Thurs-Sat 8pm Sun 7pm thru June 15. Gough Street Playhouse 1620 Gough St, SF www.custommade.org

Up Next: Amy & David Sedaris' fun-filled favorite The Book of Liz begins July 10. Linda Ayres-Frederick

June 2014

Triumphant Trio Scores in Fences at MTC

Bay Area veteran actors Carl Lumbly, Margo Hall and Steven Anthony Jones give moving performances in Fences by August Wilson and brilliantly directed by Derrick Sanders.

Fences is a 1983 play by American playwright August Wilson set in 1957 in the yard of the Maxson's home in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fences is the sixth in Wilson's ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle." Like all of the Pittsburgh plays, Fences explores the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, among other themes. This play won the 1987 Pulitzer for Drama and the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play.

The focus of Wilson's attention in Fences is Troy Maxson (Carl Lumbly), a 53-year-old head of household who struggles with providing for his family. Troy was a great baseball player in his younger years, but then spent time in prison for an accidental murder he committed during a robbery. Because the color barrier had not yet been broken in Major League baseball, Troy was unable to make much money or save for the future. He now lives a menial, though respectable life of trash collecting, remarkably crossing the race barrier and becoming a driver instead of just a barrel lifter. He lives with his wife Rose (Margo Hall), his son Cory (Eddie Ray Jackson) and Troy's younger brother Gabriel (Adrian Roberts)—an ex-soldier. Lyons (Tyee Tilghman) is Troy's son from a previous marriage and lives outside the home. Jim Bono (Steven Anthony Jones) is Troy's best friend who has recently moved out and rented a room elsewhere, but is still in the neighborhood. Makaelah Bashir injects a possible ray of future hope in her role as Troy's illegitimate daughter, Raynell.

Derrick Sanders stages Fences with excellent attention to realistic detail, and evokes solid performances from his very talented cast. The fence referred to in the title is revealed in the final set of the play. It is not immediately known why Troy wants to build it, but a monologue in the second act shows how he wants to keep the Grim Reaper away. Rose also wanted to build the fence and forced her husband to start it as a means of securing what was her own—keeping what belonged inside in and what should stay outside, out.

Fences plays at Marin Theatre Company April 10-May 11, 2014 with performances Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. Matinee performances will be held at 2 p.m. on Sundays and also Thursday April 24 and Saturday, May 3 and 10. Performances are held at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. For tickets, call the box office at 415-388-5208 or go online at www.marintheatre.org.

Next at MTC will be the West Coast Premiere of Failure: A Love Story by Philip Dawkins directed by Jasson Minadakis, June 5- June 29.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

May 2014

Shavian Comedy Arms and the Man at RVP

Ross Valley Players just opened the critically acclaimed romantic comedy, Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw. This play takes place during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian war. It’s heroine, Raina Petkoff (Kate Fox Marcom) is a young Bulgarian woman engaged to Sergius Saranoff (Peter Warden), one of the heroes of the war, who she idealizes.

One night, a Swiss mercenary soldier in the Serbian Army, Captain Bluntschli (Philip Goleman) bursts through her bedroom window and first threatens Raina, then begs her to hide him so he is not killed. Raina complies, though she thinks the man a coward, especially when he tells her that he does not carry pistol cartridges, but chocolates. When the battle dies down, Raina and her mother Catherine (Stephanie Saunders Ahlberg) sneak Bluntschli out of the house disguised in an old housecoat.

The war ends and Sergius returns to Raina, but also flirts with her insolent servant girl, Louka (Robyn Grahn). Raina begins to find Sergius both foolhardy and tiresome but she hides it. Bluntschli unexpectedly returns to bring back the old housecoat and to see Raina. Raina and her mother are shocked, especially when her father, the distinguished Major Paul Petkoff (Ron Dailey) and Sergius reveal they met Bluntschli before and invite him to stay for lunch and to help them with their troop maneuvers. Bluntschli’s return stirs several emotions in Raina and she starts to have feelings for her “chocolate cream soldier.”

Director Cris Casell has reverence for Shaw’s impressive combination of intellect, his perception of human nature, and high comedy. On this last note, “high comedy,” she is a little over the top in her direction. Most of the cast is too much like cartoon characters with the exception of Philip Goleman as Bluntschli when she pictures him a realist. Kate Fox Marcom is appealing as Raina and Warden steals the show as Major Sergius Saranoff. Ron Dailey is impressive as Raina’s father.

High praise goes to Ken Rowland’s set design, which is very colorful, Michael Berg’s costumes, Ellen Brooks’ lighting design, and Billie Cox’s sound design. George Bernard Shaw gave Leopold Jacobson the rights to adapt his play into what became the 1908 operetta, The Chocolate Soldier, with music by Oscar Straus. Bluntschli is the kind of soldier who sneaks into enemy lines and into a lady’s boudoir armed with chocolates in place of cartridges.

Arms and the Man pokes satiric fun at the dangers, bravado and idealistic motives of romantic love.

Performances: Thurs 7:30 p.m., Fri-Sat 8 p.m., Sunt 2 p.m. All performances take place at the Barn Theatre, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA. To order tickets, call 415-456-9555 or go online at www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be Other Desert Cities a 2012 Pulitzer Prize Drama finalist, also nominated for five Tony awards written by John Robin Baitz and directed by Phoebe Moyer, May 16-June 15, 2014.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

April 2014

West Coast Premiere of Jerusalem at SF Playhouse

San Francisco Playhouse Artistic Director Bill English and Production Director Susi Damilano have launched the New Year with the West Coast's first production of Jerusalem, Jez Butterworth's epic Tony and Olivier award winning play.

Bill English directs and Brian Dykstra stars in the role of Johnny "Rooster" Byron. On St. George's Day, the morning of the local county fair, Byron, local waster and modern day Pied Piper, is a wanted man. The council officials want to serve him an eviction notice, while his son Marky (Calum John) wants his dad to take him to the fair. Troy Whitworth (Joe Estlack) wants to give him a serious kicking, and a motley crew of mates wants his ample supply of drugs and alcohol. This play makes frequent allusions to William Blake's famous poem from which the title is derived.

Jerusalem has a large cast of around 15 characters. Some of the main ones are as follows. Particular attention should be paid to Brian Dykstra as the die hard, drug dealing, rural squatter, and master-of-illicit-ceremonies Johnny "Rooster" Byron. Ian Scott McGregor plays Ginger, the pathetic underdog of the group. He is older than the others who hang around with Johnny, never having grown out of this lifestyle. He aspires to be a D.J. but is, in fact, an unemployed plasterer.

Richard Louis James plays the Professor, both vague and whimsical—he spouts philosophical nothings and unwittingly takes LSD. Joshua Shell plays Davey, a young teenager who visits "Rooster" regularly for free drugs and alcohol. Joe Estlack is Troy Whitworth, a local thug and villain of the play who beats up Johnny. Paris Hunter Paul is Lee, a young teen who enters the play having been hidden in the sofa, asleep, after the first 15 minutes of the play. Julia Belanoff stars as Phaedra (Troy's stepdaughter), who opens the play singing the hymn Jerusalem, dressed in fairy wings. Pea (Devon Simpson) and Tanya (Riley Krull) are two local girls who emerge from underneath Johnny's caravan, having fallen asleep drunk. Maggie Mason is Dawn, Johnny's ex-girlfriend and mother to his child. She disapproves of his lifestyle. Christopher Reber is a delight as Wesley, the local pub landlord who is involved in the festivities for St. George's Day and has been roped into doing the Morris Dancing. Courtney Walsh plays Fawcett and Aaron Murphy plays Parsons, the County officials who place eviction notices on Johnny's mobile home.

Bill English's set is impressive, showing Johnny's old mobile home. This play, although beautifully directed by Bill English and performed by a very large cast, is overly long—over three hours.

Jerusalem plays at SF Playhouse January 26-March 8, 2014. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 415-677-9596 or go online to www.sfplayhouse.org. The SF Playhouse is located at 450 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel b/n Powell and Mason), San Francisco.

Coming up next at SF Playhouse is Bauer by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Bill English, March 18-April 19, 2014. Flora Lynn Isaacson

March 2014

Journey's End

Ross Valley Players presents the West Coast Premiere of the World War I drama Journey's End James Dunn's Gripping New Production by R.C. Sherriff. Set in the trenches of war, the play gives us a look into the experiences of the officers of a British Army infantry company as they prepare for an enemy attack. Set in a dugout at St. Quentin, France in 1918, toward the end of the war, the entire story plays out over four days—March 18, 1918 to March 21, 1918. Journeys End photo

First of all the set (Ron Krempetz) was excellent. A window dead center was brilliantly lit by Ellen Brooks and really helps to set the scene; as day breaks, the sun streams down, and at night, the candles and lamps glow in the darkness. The attention to meticulous detail takes us straight back to the damp, inhospitable setting of the trenches. We could see two bunks, a table with candles, and several makeshift chairs.

The play begins as Captain Hardy (Steve Price) prepares to go on leave—new officers will replace him for the next six days. Captain Stanhope (David Yen) has been at the front for three years, is mentally on the edge and is always drinking whiskey. He is joined by Lt. Osborne (Tom Hudgens), 2nd Lt. Raleigh (Francis Serpa), 2nd Lt. Trotter (Stephen Dietz), and 2nd Lt. Hibbert (Phillip Goleman). Sean Gunnell (Private Mason) is the omnipresent cook that appears hour after hour. Jeff Taylor has a wonderful cameo as the company sergeant major. The men eat, smoke and drink, all to excess, since there is nothing else to do in between being on duty. There is tension, sadness and constant fear, but stories and laughter too.

The performances from the nine strong ensemble are exceptionally good, with brilliant performances from many. The sound design (Stephen Dietz) really set the tone of the play, and rather than drown us with constant fire, gave us deafening bombardment to spectacular effect when necessary, but mostly just eerie silence and pops of distant shells. The end of the journey is a sad one, but the story of the journey is highly recommended, due to Dunn's magnificent staging and his sterling ensemble cast. Everything about this production has been rendered with a sensitivity and craftsmanship that represents theatre at its finest.

Journey's End runs January 16, 2014-February 16, 2014. Regular Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. All performances are held at the Barn Theatre, home of the Ross Valley Players, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA. For tickets, call 415-456-9555, extension 1 or go to rossvalleyplayers.com.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw and directed by Cris Cassell, March 14-April 13, 2014. Flora Lynn Isaacson

February 2014

The Weir

Off Broadway West's production of Conor McPherson's play The Weir opens in a rural Irish pub with proprietor Brendan (Adam Simpson) and Jack (Keith Burkland), a car mechanic/garage owner discussing their respective days, soon joined by Jim (Brian O'Connor), Jack's assistant. They are just talking of Valerie (Jocelyn Stringer) a pretty young woman from Dublin who has rented a nearby old home when she enters with businessman Finbar (Shane Fahy)

Aided by drink, the banter of these men who have a shared upbringing turns to ghost stories. After they have finished, Valerie tells hers: why she left Dublin that shocks the men into being softer and kinder. Jack admits his haunting story of personal loss is not a ghostly tale at heart.

Like many a bittersweet Irish play, The Weir points out lack of close relationships and missed connections. The title is drawn from the hydroelectric dam on a nearby waterway that flows like the stories they tell.

The cast brings refreshingly, solid meaning to the phrase "ensemble" acting. OBW's Richard Harder's direction is precise and effective. Bert van Aalsburg's pub set suggests its locale where the Guinness beer flows along with old friends and ghost stories: a perfect way to spend a cold autumn night!

The Weir runs thru Dec 7, Thurs-Sat 8 pm at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason Street, Suite 601, SF (near Geary). Tickets 1-800-838-3006 www.offbroadwaywest.org. Next at the Phoenix: Jan 9-Feb 8 Brisk Weather Productions' Pardon My Invasion by Joy Cutler 1-800-838-3006 www.phoenixtheatresf.org Flora Lynn Isaacson

Harvey

Ross Valley Players present Mary Coyle Chase's Harvey, (Pulitzer Prize & Best Play 1944-45). Harvey was adapted in 1950 for film starring James Stewart.

Elwood P. Dowd is an affable man who has a friend—a six foot, three and one-half-inch tall pooka—named Harvey who Elwood alone can see. Elwood introduces Harvey to everyone he meets. His social climbing sister Veta-Louise finds his eccentric behavior embarrassing and persuades a family friend and Judge to have him committed.

When they arrive at the sanitarium, a comedy of errors ensues. The doctors commit Veta instead of Elwood. When Elwood shows up looking for Harvey, his delusion has a strange influence on the staff and eventually on sister Veta.

This nostalgic production directed by RVP Artistic Director Robert Wilson, is old home week for many RVP Players: Stephanie Saunders Ahlberg (Betty Chumley) Norman Hall (Dr. Chumley); Wood Lockhart (Judge Gaffney); Robyn Grahn (Myrtle Mae); Robin Wiley (Ethel Chauvenent); legendary stage director James Dunn (E.J. Lofgren); Pamela Ciochetti (Veta Louise); Philip Goleman (Dr. Sanderson) and Steve Price as Elwood P. Dowd. RVP newcomer Lydia Singleton is impressive as Nurse Ruth Kelly.

Truly amazing sets by Ken Rowland work well with Michael A. Berg's authentic period costumes.

Audiences still find this timeless masterpiece hilarious.

Thru Dec 15, 2013, Thurs 7:30 pm, Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2pm, Barn Theatre 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Ross. Tickets: 415-456-9555 www.rossvalleyplayers.com Next: Journey's End by R.C. Sherriff directed by James Dunn, Jan 17-Feb 16, 2014. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Arlington

Directed by Jackson Gay, Arlington is nearly a solo show featuring Analisa Leaming as Sara Jane and Jeff Pew as piano accompanist and her occasionally- speaking husband Jerry. This one hour stream of consciousness of Sara Jane's attempts to remain cheerful while waiting for her soldier husband's return is sung primarily with dips into Sprechstimme and brief patches of spoken monologue and dialogue. With Jeff Pew prominently placed in full view at his grand piano upstage, there is no mistaking his importance as the never forgotten mate whose military judgment hovers over Sara Jane. What is not so clear is why his wife's monologue needs to be sung or how she could just be realizing war is painful, horrific and deadly for those near or on the battlefield.

Ms. Leaming's lovely soprano voice modulates from cheerful innocence to worried concern for her unborn male child as future cannon fodder. She questions her military family's values, deals with her facelift obsessed mother, responds to her husband's disquieting sexual fantasies, is haunted by the atrocities her husband has committed against women and children and more.

Jeff Pew is equally convincing as her husband on the front and as an ever-present force she can't control. His skill as a pianist is exemplary, as is his acting talent in his few spoken interjections. Here the difficulty isn't with the performing artists themselves, but with the material they are given to work with that leaves one wanting more.

Arlington continues thru December 8 at Magic Theatre www.magictheatre.org or 415.441.8822 Linda Ayres-Frederick

Peter/Wendy

Pre-show, the lost boy and girls of Never-Never Land ask the audience what they did today and write the answers in chalk on the floor. Dressed in vari-colored striped pyjamas, the cast continues this energetic process until the space is filled. Then begins this stripped to its bare elements tale of a boy who goes back to find his shadow and fly away with the girl who sews it back on to a faraway place "second star to the right and straight on 'til morning."

Guest Director Jeremy Bloom talks about the show: "I have been developing this project in various incarnations off and on for ten years or so. Technically longer, because the story of Peter Pan pervades our culture and minds even in ways we're not aware of. When I read J.M. Barrie's prose version, I was newly awakened to the depth of the story and its characters. While the story is marketed towards children, the book was clearly told from the perspective of an adult who acutely understands how fleeting youth and life are…not in a depressing way, but in a hopeful and lyrical way. One passage I remember not really seeing as a kid, is the heartbreaking journey of the parents left behind in the nursery to mourn the disappearance of their child. I wanted to stage Peter Pan with a ton of heart, focusing on the dynamics of its archetypal characters and strip the play of its iconic costumes and swinging wires to emphasize the story."

"The text speaks so profoundly about imagination, it is only fitting to use super low-tech and minimal objects at a fast pace. The play is 75 minutes with music throughout and not a single blackout."

The ensemble includes: Tinkerbell (the astonishing Anya Kazimierski), Hook & Mr. Darling (a remarkable Terry Bamberger), Mrs. Darling/Smee (Kim Saunders), Peter (Sam Bertken), Wendy (Elissa Beth Stebbins), A Tiger Lilly (Jessica Jade Rudholm) and A Lost Boy/A Mermaid (Jeunee Simon) on Joshua Saulpaw's and Nicola McCarthy's multilevel Set with Lighting by Colin Johnson and Sound Design by Liz Ryder.

Peter/Wendy Thurs-Sat 8pm. Sun 7pm thru Dec 15 at Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough Street (at Bush), www.custommade.orgNext at Custom Made: The Pain and The Itch by Bruce Norris directed by Dale Albright Jan 10-Feb 9, 2014 Linda Ayres-Frederick

December 2013

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

An Original Drama About the Iraq War at SF Playhouse

The San Francisco Playhouse has launched the first year of its second decade, now in a new venue, at 450 Post Street, with a Tony-nominated and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, by Rajiv David and directed by Bill English.

This show is about a tiger (Will Marchetti) that haunts the streets of present day Baghdad seeking the meaning of life. As he witnesses the puzzling absurdities of war, the tiger encounters Americans and Iraqis searching for friendship and redemption.

He lives in the Baghdad zoo. He tells the audience that most of the animals have fled to “freedom” because of the Iraq invasion, only to be shot dead by soldiers. That night US soldiers come to guard the zoo. The tiger, driven by fear and hunger, bites off the hand of Tom (Gabriel Marin), a soldier. Kev (Craig Marker), another soldier shoots the tiger, mortally wounding him.

Kev finds himself haunted by the ghost of the tiger, who wanders about Baghdad. Due to an outburst while searching an Iraqi home, Kev is sent to the hospital. Back in Baghdad with a prosthetic hand, Tom pays a visit to Kev. It is revealed that the gun Kev used to shoot the tiger was taken from the palace of the late Uday Hussein. Tom wants the gun back so he can start a new life in the U.S. by selling the gold plated gun. During the exchange however, the gun falls into the hands of Uday’s former gardener, Masa (Kuros Charney), who is also working as a translator for the soldiers. He is frequently visited by Uday’s ghost (Pomme Koch).

The rest of the show involves the living characters interacting with the dead ones as the war happens around them. Will Marchetti gives an amazing performance as the tiger (worth the price of admission) and is ably assisted by Gabriel Marin and Craig Marker as the two Marines.

Director Bill English chose this play because “it asks the biggest question of our lives—why are we here…we are all part animal, part spirit and our success at being human is defined by how we balance our contradictory nature.” The fantastic set gets imaginative lighting design by Dan Reed.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo runs Oct1-Nov 16. Tue-Thur 7 pm | Fri-Sat 8 pm | plus Sat at 3 pm. and Sun at 2 pm SF Playhouse, 450 Post St. (2nd floor of Kensington Park Hotel). Tickets: 677-9596 orsfplayhouse.org.Flora Lynn Isaacson

I and You.

MTC Presents World Premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s I and You — a heartfelt new play focuses on how the work of Walt Whitman inspires two teenagers. This play involves two ethnically different teens: cranky Caroline (Jessica Lynn Carroll), who is waiting for a liver transplant, and a level- headed basketball star, Anthony(Devion McArthur), who loves John Coltrane. At the beginning of the play, Anthony shows up in Caroline’s bedroom to get her to collaborate on a project to deconstruct a poem, “Leaves of Grass,” by Walt Whitman which is about the interconnectivity of everything. But as the two cram to finish their presentation, they learn not only how to work together, but just how fundamentally they complement each other.

Lauren Gunderson is currently a hot new playwright. Her plays are performed at Theatre Works, San Francisco Playhouse, Shotgun Players, and Crowded Fire. Director Sarah Rasmussen, the Resident Director for Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Black Swan Lab, brings a fresh touch to the direction. Michael Locher’s colorful attic bedroom set almost becomes a character in the play. Devion McArthur gives a wonderfully sympathetic and supportive performance as he tries to win over Caroline. Jessica Lynn Carroll gives a challenging performance as Caroline, who is difficult every step of the way.

I and You begins its life at Marin Theatre Company and immediately goes on to productions in Maryland and Indiana. With this play, Gunderson writes in the voice of two intelligent kids, members of a savvy generation who have a lot to say about how fast the world around them is moving. She explains their journey of self discovery with a similar journey expressed by one of America’s finest poets over 150 years ago in a beautifully articulated, revealing piece of literature.

I and You runs Oct 10-Nov 3 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. For tickets, call the box office at 415-388-0208 or go online at www.marintheatre.org.

Coming up next at Marin Theatre Company will be Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula and directed by John Tracy, Nov 21-Dec 15. Flora Lynn Isaacson

November 2013

Chapter Two

Chapter Two is widely perceived to be an autobiographical revelation of Neil Simon coming to terms with the death of his first wife, followed by his love affair and subsequent marriage to Marsha Mason. This poignant play is based around four brilliantly penned characters—George Schneider (David Shirk), a mourning writer; Jennie Malone (Kate Fox Marcom), a level headed actress; Leo Schneider (Johnny DeBernard), George's talkative but loving brother; and Faye Medwick (Jennifer Reimer), Jennie's utterly clueless but enchanting friend.

George has not "moved on" from the untimely death of his wife despite Leo's best efforts to fix him up with other women. Then he meets Jennie who's just walked out of a terrible marriage to a football player, and in a very short span of time, they're in love and get married. But George's memories catch up with him, and he soon finds himself trapped between the past and present, and their relationship starts to crumble. How does George reconcile his past and move forward with Jennie—a sentimental woman with a strong head on her shoulders? Do they give up or can they work things out?

Although it seems like a heavy subject to deal with, Simon's wonderful narrative and witty dialog makes Chapter Two an immensely likeable play. In George and Jennie, Simon shows both complexity and simplicity. In Leo and Faye, Simon presents two confused, yet adorable characters.

The play is sensitively directed by James Nelson (who combines Simon's frequent phone call dialog in order to show the parallel nature of Chapter Two). He creates an invisible line through the middle of the stage, so each character only exists in half of their former world. When the two come together, they form one "whole." Nelson also added, in several occurrences of what he calls "moments alone"—short transitioning scenes where we simply get a glimpse of the two main characters alone in their own space. The time and place is winter/spring 1977, in the New York apartments of George and Jennie. This remarkable set design is by Eugene deChristopher.

David Shirk and Kate Fox Marcom work well together digging deep for the panorama of emotions that Simon intended. Jennifer Reimer milks the audience for laughs in a fun, supporting role. Johnny DeBernard is perfectly cast as George's brother Leo.

Be sure not to miss Chapter Two, the opening play of Ross Valley players' 2013/2014 season. Chapter Two runs September 13-October 13, 2013. performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Barn Theatre, home of the Ross Valley players—30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA. To order tickets, call 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or visit www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Coming up next at Ross Valley players: RAW Festival of four plays with "Unintended Consequences" from October 18-27, 2013. This will be followed by Harvey by Mary Chase and directed by Robert Wilson, November 15-December 15, 2013. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Next to Normal

In the mood for a rock-musical? The Tony and pulitzer prize-winning Next to Normal plays at Gough Street playhouse, produced by Custom Made Theatre with a cast that brings out the best in both script and lyrics. CMT's Artistic Director Brian Katz keeps the pace moving on Erik LaDue's cleverly functional set, remarkably lit by Maxx Kurzunski. Stellar performances abound in the challenging emotional life of the Goodman family that Tom Kitt (Music) and Brian Yorkey (Book & Lyrics) examine. A tale of how one suburban family copes with mental illness (specifically bi-polar disorder) encompasses each family member's coping mechanisms, plus the doctors and friend involved. Life itself is the antagonist who has dealt the challenge. With Musical direction by Armando Fox assisted by Mark Dietrich, actor/singers Lisa-Marie Newton, Danny Gould, LaMont Ridgell, Mackenzie Cala, Jordon Bridges and perry Aliado all rise to the occasion.

Next to Normal plays Thurs – Sat at 8pm Sun at 7pm through Oct 27, 1620 Gough (at Bush) . Up next: the West Coast premiere of peter/Wendy opening Nov. 19. Tickets: www.custommade.org or info@custommade.org. Linda Ayres-Frederick

Bay One Acts Festival 2013

The Festival has two programs playing at The Tides Theatre. Featuring the work of Bay Area playwrights, program One's six plays include work of Tracy Held potter, Sam Leichter, Daniel Hollowy, Bennett Fisher, William Bivins and a devised piece based on T.S. Eliot's Love Song of Alfred J. Prufock by Allison Combs. program Two (which this reviewer saw) features work by seven other playwrights. Nancy Cooper Frank's Inexpressibly Blue takes on perennial cheer versus the darker view of aging while Ignacio Zulueta's 3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters cleverly mirrors the Chekhov classic. Jeff Carter's pinteresque Break of Day shows two maternally-dependent brothers faced with the challenge of what to do with their mother's recent remains. Daniel Hirsch's Shooter examines the psyches of three now incarcerated perpetrators of shootings. Lauren Gunderson's Two pigeons Talk politics humorously gives two birds' eyes views of the human dilemma. In Michael phillis' Babes, two Moms try their damnedest to remain politically correct giving their infant son his first lesson on procreation. Megan Cohen's My Year takes us through the surprise party for a very reluctant Birthday celebrant.

Kudos to BOA for offering their audience different voices, perspectives and journeys that resonate no matter what time or place in which they are set.

For tickets and schedule playing through Oct 5 at 533 Sutter Street, SF www.bayoneacts.org or www.brownpapertickets.com Linda Ayres-Frederick

Buried Child

The Magic Theatre's revival of Sam Shepard's Buried Child is worth the trip to Ft. Mason just to see Rod Gnapp as patriarch Dodge, Denise Balthrop Cassidy as wife Halie, and Lawrence Radecker's Father Dewis. Family secrets are revealed in this dark American classic that premiered here in 1978. Loretta Greco directs.

plays through Oct 13. www.magictheatre.org Linda Ayres-Frederick

Pardon My Invasion

Free Reading: Sunday, Oct 6, 7pm. Joy Cutler's hilarious new play Pardon My Invasion at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason Street, (at Geary) SF. Strong Language Advisory. www.phoenixtheatresf.org.Linda Ayres-Frederick

October 2013

NO MAN'S LAND

Pinter Masterfully Engages Mind and Heart

Watching a master actor at work is like drinking delicious ambrosia. It satisfies the thirst and even makes you a bit giddy. This is what it was to watch Sir Ian McKellen perform in Harold Pinter's No Man's Land at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. His colleagues delivered performances that were no less shabby: Billy Crudup, Patrick Stewart, Shuler Hensley. What could go wrong with such an illustrious cast? The answer: Nothing. Nothing at all!

Ian McKellen
Ian McKellen as Spooner

Pinter's play about two elderly writers who bump into each other on the Hampstead Heath and later at a nearby pub engages the imagination and the heart as it examines the two very different fates each one has lived. Spooner (Ian McKellen) is a poet who like Icarus experienced his moments of acclaim while young but soon fell from grace (too close to the sun, eh?). He ends up cobbling together a group of writers and wannabes to meet monthly at the pub. Hirst (Patrick Stuart) is an essayist/poet who achieved both wealth and position enough to keep the best of liquor in his cabinet and two hired servants, Foster (Billy Crudup) and Briggs (Shuler Hensley) to care for him in his dotage.

On Stephen Brimson Lewis' grand semi-circular interior set, the drinking begins. Seated in his leather-winged chair, Hirst holds court as the benevolent host to his visitor Spooner. Balancing bottle, glasses, and mackintosh, McKellan engages us as he and we attempt to figure out how these two know each other. Mixing drinks and metaphors, the verbiage spirals into the night like a sophisticated pissing contest, Spooner being the more verbose of the two by far. Yet with all his words, his physical comedy entertains and the mystery of his character remains. As the two keep drinking, Hirst gets drunker (vodka followed by whiskey) and ends up crawling out of the room, leaving Spooner momentarily on his own. Foster (Crudup) enters with youthful panache and introduces himself as Hirst's son, caretaker and poet too.

Briggs makes his entrance and brings with him an element of foreboding menace. As a bodyguard with youth and stature on his side, he could easily overpower any intruder.

The shorter second act begins with Spooner alone waking up from a fetal position (recall same from McKellen's earlier Richard III), discovering the door to be locked and attempting to ready himself for the day in the suit that looked slept in before he slept in it. Enter Briggs with offer of breakfast from the master before Spooner has the opportunity to proffer himself as a more learned companion to Hirst. Playing with themes of facts altered by memory and the loss of it, Pinter takes us into a realm where the "no man's land" that age delivers makes success and failure all relative. This was a not-to-be-missed performance.

While the run of No Man's Land at Berkeley Rep through August 31 was understandably sold out, tickets for each day's show were sometimes returned close to show time and made available for purchase. Roda Theatre, 2014 Addison St. Berkeley (510)647-2949. www.berkeleyrep.org

If you've the means to go, and missed the Berkeley run, No Man's Land will run on Broadway at The Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St. NYC in repertory with Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Previews begin October 25 with an opening night on November 24. Buy tickets online at Telecharge.com Linda Ayres-Frederick

All's Well That Ends Well

Shakespeare's Problem Comedy at Marin Shakespeare

According to Director Robert Currier, in his curtain speech preceding the play, in 1895 George Bernard Shaw liked this play very much because it was not a sugar-coated comedy. Shaw viewed this play as being like real life.

To quote Marin Shakespeare dramaturg, Cathleen Sheehan, "All's Well That Ends Well invites us into a world strikingly different from the earlier, jubiliant, Elizabethan comedies. So different do we find this so called comedy that some resist the label entirely and refer to the play as a "problem play."

In this play, the characters are riddled with flaws and the ending, despite the title, is not a feel good, fairytale, happy-ever-after conclusion. The name of this play expresses the saying, "all's well that ends well," which means that problems don't matter as long as the outcome is good.

This production boasts five outstanding guest artists: Lucas McClure as Lavatch, the wise fool or clown, who also composed some orginal songs for this production; Jessica Powell as the Countess Rousillon, a great lady, as charming as old Lafeu; Scott Coopwood who is a true French gentleman; James Hiser as Parolles, companion to Bertram (Adam Magill), son of the Countess, a soldier with false bravado; and finally, Jack Powell as the King of France in an amazing performance.

In addition to these five Equity actors, we have rounding out the cast the leading romantic couple, Bertram and Helena (Carla Pauli), who are not romantic and shouldn't be a couple. Helena is determined in her desire to win Bertram and Bertram is not. To escape Helena, Bertram heads off to war in Italy with Parolles in tow. Helena then sets out to follow him and arrives in Florence in the guise of a pilgrim and lodges with a widow (Heather Cherry) whose daughter Diana (Luisa Frasconi) is the newest object of Bertram's affection. With Diana's help, Helena aims to trap Bertram, and therein lies the play.

Judging by Abra Berman's wonderful Costumes and Billie Cox's Sound Design, it would seem that Robert Currier set his play in the 1940's.

With an entire cast of skilled Shakespearean actors, Currier stresses the comedy and doesn't worry about the problem. So we're all in for an evening of fun!

All's Well That Ends Well runs Aug. 24 to Sep. 28, 2013. Performances are at Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, 890 Belle Avenue, Dominican University, San Rafael. For tickets, call 415-499-4488 or www.marinshakespeare.org\pages\ticketorder.php Flora Lynn Isaacson

September 2013

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

A Mother/Daughter Tug of War at MTC

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh is set in the Irish countryside where a woman in her forties tries to gain control of her life and destiny from her mother. This play is a blend of black comedy, melodrama, horror and tragedy. The story is set in the Irish village of Leenane, Connemara, in the early 1990’s. It takes place in a shabby, poorly lit kitchen and living room resulting in a claustrophobic sense of entrapment.

The play centers on the life of Maureen Folan (Beth Wilmurt), a forty year old virgin who takes care of her selfish and manipulative seventy year old mother Mag (Joy Carlin). Maureen’s sisters have escaped into marriage and family life, but Maureen, with a history of mental illness, is trapped in a seriously dysfunctional relationship with her mother.

The Folan cottage is visited by Pato Dooley (Rod Gnapp) and his younger brother Ray (Joseph Salazar). Pato is a middle aged construction worker fed up with having to live and work The glimmer of a last chance romance between Maureen and Pato sparks up in the first act and continues in the second one with a notable monologue by Pato. The plot, full of deceptions, secrets and betrayals keeps surprising the audience. Hopes are raised only to be dashed.

In this play, much credit must also go to a flawless cast in Mark Jackson’s finely tuned production. Beth Wilmurt is compelling as Maureen—she is waspish, witty, passionate and vulnerable. We are no less delighted to be in the company of Joy Carlin’s manipulative Mag. Rod Gnapp’s Pato is the most sympathetic of the four characters. His younger brother Ray is too impatient to wait to put Pato’s romantic letter into Maureen’s hands.

Martin McDonagh is an interesting and good storyteller. This production owes much to Mark Jackson’s finely paced direction, York Kennedy’s perfectly targeted lighting and Nina Ball’s wonderfully grungy set—and worth repeating—a superb cast!

The Beauty Queen of Leenane played at Marin Theatre Company, May 23-June 16, 2013. Coming up next at Marin Theatre Company will be Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Tracy Young, August 22-September 15, 2013.

Betrayal

Off Broadway West Stages Comeback with Harold Pinter’s Betrayal

Off Broadway West Theatre Company is delighted to present the revival of this great classic here on the west coast as the first full production after a year’s hiatus of successful staged readings.

Betrayal begins in 1977 with a meeting between adulterous lovers, Emma (Sylvia Kratins) and Jerry (Brian O’Connor), two years after their affair has ended. The play ends as we move back in time through nine scenes of the play to 1968 in the house of Emma and her husband Robert (Keith Burkland), who is also Jerry’s best friend.

Although all three actors do a marvelous job portraying their characters convincingly and consistently, Sylvia Kratins tackles the play’s more challenging role with striking emotional clarity. Her Emma is a woman torn between husband and lover who must justify lying to Robert, but more significantly, must justify lying to herself. We see in Emma a dynamic character that evolves from an innocent girl into a haunted, bitter woman. Burkland’s Robert is particularly impressive in conveying the darkness that makes him the sort of man who’s not above hitting his wife. Brian O’Connor’s Jerry is charming but very much smug about considering anything beyond an affair impossible.

Bert van Aalsburg’s set is sparse--a pub, a sitting room, a hotel room--each is suggested only by chairs and a table.

By the final episode, which is the beginning of the story, but the end of the play, the three actors have infused their now youthful characters with glowingly exuberant energy.

Critics and audiences made Betrayal one of London’s most popular plays when it premiered in 1978. It won several major awards, including the Olivier Award for Best New Play, and the New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award.

Betrayal runs at Off Broadway West Theater Company, June 21-July 20, 2013. For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or go online at www.offbroadwest.org.

July-August 2013

All My Sons

On opening night of All My Sons—A Morality Tale by Arthur Miller, May 17, Set Designer Ken Rowland, was presented the Life Achievement Award by Cris Cassell, President of Ross Valley Players. His wonderful backyard set in Ross Valley Players’ current production shows that he is well deserving of his fine honor.

All My Sons, the 5th show of RVP’s 83rd season, is directed by multi-talented Caroline Altman.

All My Sons takes place in the backyard of the Keller home on the outskirts of an American town in August, 1947. This play is true to the three unities of modern drama popularized by Henrik Ibsen: time, place and action.

All My Sons tells the story of Joe Keller (Craig Christiansen), a self-made businessman who lives a comfortable life with his wife Kate (Kristine Ann Lowry) and returning war veteran son Chris (Francis Serpa), in a suburban, middle-class American neighborhood. They have only one sadness in their lives—the loss of their younger son, Larry, who was reported missing in World War II. While Kate still believes Larry is coming back, Chris believes otherwise and would like her to give up that hope so he can marry Ann (Amber Collins Crane), Larry’s former fiancée and the daughter of Steve Deever, Joe’s former business partner who went to prison for selling cracked cylinder heads to the Air Force, causing 21 planes to crash. While Joe’s name is cleared, he falsely places the entire blame on Steve.

Caroline Altman makes one realize that Miller’s play is a portrait of a society as well as a flawed individual as she explores our ever-changing sense of family, social responsibility and values.

Craig Christiansen is a strong Joe Keller. He charms and jokes with his neighbors and plays the beaming patriarch. Kristine Ann Lowry is no less astonishing as Joe’s wife. She is as swashed in pretense as her husband, but the difference is that she knows it. There is fine support from Francis Serpa as Chris, the impossibly idealistic surviving son, and from Amber Collins Crane as Ann, the tenacious fiancée. Javier Alarcon lends weight to his performance as a neighboring doctor who sacrificed his happiness. This production is blessed with a fine ensemble to give life to Miller’s well-developed secondary characters. Siobhan O’Brien is particularly good as Sue Bayliss, the wife of the doctor who would rather do research than general medicine.

Caroline Altman’s highly stylized staging in many ways suits the play’s intensely melodramatic plot and makes a welcome addition to this season’s challenging line up of plays.

All My Sons plays through June 16, 2013. Performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. All performances take place at the Barn Theatre, home of the Ross Valley Players, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA. To order tickets, call 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or visit www.rossvalleyplayers.com

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be the Dixie Swim Club by Jessie Jones Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten and directed by Linda Dunn, July 19-August 18, 2013. Flora Lynn Isaacson

The Foreigner

The opening of The Foreigner by Larry Shue represents a long overdue homecoming to Novato because it is the first play to be performed in Novato Theater Company’s new theater space at 5420 Nave Drive and the first play of the 2012-13 season to play in Novato. While hunting for their new home, NTC produced the other four shows at San Rafael locations.

Director Jerrie Patterson has assembled a cast that seems almost tailor made for this production. Charlie Baker (Frederick Lein) is a shy Englishman traveling in rural Georgia with his friend, Froggy LeSueur (Johnny DeBernard), a member of the British army. The two men visit an inn run by Froggy’s old friend, Betty Meeks (Cat Bish). Charlie is in the midst of marital problems so Froggy decides to leave him at the inn for a few days so he can enjoy some peace and quiet, but Charlie is terrified of having to make any conversation with the inhabitants of the inn, who besides the gregarious Betty, include a crooked Reverend (Robert Nelson) and his pregnant fiancé Catherine (Rachel Brogdon) and her slow-witted little brother Ellard (Parker Neely).

Froggy has an idea. He will tell Betty that Charlie is a foreigner and speaks no English. This gives Charlie the peace he wants as well as providing excitement for the others who have never seen a “real live foreigner” before. This also leads to many hilarious situations—and eventually to a run in with the loathsome Owen Musser (John Conway) and his Ku Klux Klan boys. But Charlie, through sheer cleverness and courage, defeats the Klan and all ends happily.

The Foreigner runs at Novato Theater Company, May 24-June 16. The new location of the Novato Theater Playhouse is 5420 Nave Drive, Suite C, Novato, CA. Performances are held at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call 415-883-4498 or go online at www.novatotheatercompany.org

Coming up next at NTC will be The Lion In Winter by James Goldman, August 30-September 22, 2013. Flora Lynn Isaacson

June 2013

Fringe of Marin Opens 31st Season
in Remembrance of Annette Lust

The Fringe of Marin was created in 1995 by Dr. Annette Lust, Professor Emerita at Dominican University. She ran the Fringe, which was very close to her heart for 30 seasons, until her death this past February.  Gina Pandiani, a Dominican University alum (1985) became the new Managing Director and Pamela Rand stepped in as Production Manager.  Running in two programs on alternate nights, this festival features a combination of fourteen plays and solo performances.  

On Saturday, May 5, following the last performance of Program II, the Bay Area Theatre Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Play, Actors and Directors will be announced at Meadowlands Assembly Hall, Dominican University, followed by a celebration of Annette Lust’s life with her family in attendance.

Program II opened on April 21, 2013 with the play Here’s Your Life (A Tribute to Syd Caesar) written by Stacy Lapin and Pamela Rand and directed by Jerry Ambinder.  Rand also stars in the play as Susannah P. Metcalf who is dragged from the audience to face her life story.  Pamela Rand is a master of physical comedy. Kris Neely is outstanding as the M.C. who calls up people from Susannah’s past life including Kenneth Sollazzo as Kenny, a Frenchman from her past; Lauren Arrow as Minifred, a spirited high school friend; Burl Lampert as Charles, her brother and Terri Barker as Terri, her most recent amour. 

The next play was a solo performance, The Wreck written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, adapted by Deanna Anderson and directed by the famous Leonard Pitt.  The Wreck was beautifully performed by Anderson.  It was a combination of Longfellow’s poem and her own autobiography and a highlight of Program II. 

The third play was a delightful comedy, Freeons written and directed by Rachel Cohen.  In this play, Tom (Doug Newkirk) invites MIchelle (Mary Hicks) out on a first date--dinner in a dumpster!  Hicks gives a delightful performance as Michelle, who goes through many changes.  

The last performance before intermission was a solo performance, Something’s Not Wright...written, directed and performed by Steve North. North has great charisma and stage presence in his semi-autobiographical account of Newton Fig, a substitute teacher.  

After intermission, the fifth play was Lauren and the Ocean written by Peter Hseih and directed by Terri Barker.  In this story, we follow a tender friendship between Lauren, a young girl (Jiawen Liang) and Shelly (Rick Arrieta) an aging artist, over the course of seven years.  This play is sensitively directed by Terri Barker. 

The sixth presentation was a solo performance, Admissions in the Dark, written, directed and performed by Michael Belitsos, a talented magician. Here he shares with us his love affair with horror films dating to when he was seven years old. 

Last but not least was play number seven, A Marriage Proposal “2013” written by Anton Chekhov and adapted and directed by Gina Pandiani. Sandi Weldon gives an outstanding performance as Stephania Stepanovna, the Russian mother of Natalia (Angela Monique) while Damion Square plays Ivan Vasiliyich, the suitor.  Gina Pandiani’s modern adaptation covers Obamacare, politics, global warming, the Green Party and gay rights. What a clever adaptation!  

The Fringe of Marin runs April 19-May 5, 2013. For ticket information, call 415-673-3131 or go online at www.fringeofmarin.com

Reasons to be pretty

Reasons to be pretty, a dark comedy by Neil LaBute, is the third play in his trilogy with includes The Shape of Things and Fat Pig, which all focus on our American obsession with physical appearance.

Greg (Craig Marker) has been living with Stephanie (Lauren English) for four years when he makes an offhand remark to Kent (Patrick Russell) that Stephanie has “a regular face” which triggers a violent outburst from Stephanie. This scene is way “over the top” and begins at such a high pitch that the two actors have nowhere to go. So the simple, offhand use of the word “regular” to compare a girlfriend’s face to that of a new, pretty co-worker is more than enough to warrant the explosion that follows.

Greg, a warehouse worker with an interest in classical literature is such a straightforward person that it’s hard to believe he really meant anything by his remark. He explains often enough and tries as best as he knows how, to apologize, but Steph isn’t buying it. Neither are his co-workers Kent and Carly (Jennifer Stuckert), a married couple with issues of their own. So, Greg is left to navigate his newly single life while remaining embroiled in the drama that continually swirls around him.

Bill English’s wonderful set is mounted on a revolving stage allowing the action of the play to flow smoothly without interruption. Marker and Lauren English are so good they are able to bring this play to life under Susi Damilano’s clever direction (except for the opening scene). These are the two characters who show growth and are able to change.

reasons to be pretty makes for an interesting jumping off point, the examination of the importance of beauty and the power of everyday words.

reasons to be pretty runs through May 11 at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street (second floor of Kensington Park Hotel) b/n Powell and Mason. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7 p.m. and Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; also Saturday at 3 p.m. For tickets, call 415-677-9596 or go online at www.sfplayhouse.org.

Next at SF Playhouse will be Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh/directed by Amy Glazer, May 21-July 6, Flora Lynn Isaacson

May 2013

WAITING FOR GODOT

Samuel Beckett’s French title, En Attendant Godot, sums up the essence of his 1953 play Waiting for Godot, as it is really about what happens while two tramps wait.  Beckett’s masterpiece was directed by Marin Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Jasson Minadakis.  Beckett calls his play “a tragi-comedy” in two acts. Waiting for Godot was recently performed at MTC from January 24-February 17, 2013. 

The plot of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is simple to relate. Two tramps Estragon, (Mark Anderson Phillips) and Vladimir (Mark Bedard) are waiting by the side of the road for the arrival of Godot.  They quarrel, make up, contemplate suicide, try to sleep, eat a carrot and gnaw on some chicken bones.  Later, two other characters appear, a master, Pozzo (James Carpenter) and his slave, Lucky (Ben Johnson).  They pause for a while to converse with Vladimir and Estragon.  Lucky entertains them by dancing.  After Pozzo and Lucky leave, a young boy (Lucas Meyers) arrives to say that Godot will  not come today but he will come tomorrow.  However, Godot does not come and the two tramps resume their vigil by the tree, which between the 1st and 2nd act has sprouted some leaves.

Beckett’s two tramps are costumed by Maggi Whitaker in tight black suits, bowler hats and tight shoes which are reminiscent of Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy.  The minimalist set by Liliana Duque Pineiro consists of a plain black background with only a bare-branched tree, a rock, and occasionally a moon.

Minadakis’ superb direction shows us that life is worth living when you are with someone.  His Vladimir and Estragon are tied together because they need each other. They complement one another.  Vladimir never sits down while Estragon is constantly sitting.

Minadakis has assembled a talented cast—Oregon Shakespeare Festival Company Member is Vladimir.  Mark Anderson Phillips, previously in MTC’s Tiny Alice, is Estragon.  Both actors play off each other very well.  A standout performance is given by well-known Bay Area actor James Carpenter as Pozzo.  Former Ringling Brothers and Cirque du Soleil clown, Ben Johnson, makes the most of his role as Pozzo’s servant Lucky.  His long speech is strongly reminiscent of James Joyce.

Beckett’s play is universal because it pictures the journey all of us take in our daily lives.  Habit is very important as it is the pattern of our daily lives.  We are all waiting for something to make our lives better.  The act of waiting is never over and it mysteriously starts up again each day.

Coming up at MTC will be the Bay Area Premiere of The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez and directed by Jasson Minadakis, Mar 28-Apr 21.
Flora Lynn Isaacson

ENCHANTED APRIL

Ross Valley Players opened the 4th show of their 83rd season Friday, March 15, 2013 with Matthew Barber’s Enchanted April. It is a wonderful romantic comedy and definitely a must see for all ages. Mr. Barber’s lively adaptation of a charming novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April, is set at a villa in Portofino in the province of Genoa, Italy, which von Arnim visited during the 1920’s. There was a 1992 film version, and Barber’s 2003 play won three Best Play Awards and was nominated for a Tony.

Enchanted April tells the story of four very different women in 1920’s England who leave their damp and rainy surroundings to go on a holiday to a secluded, coastal villa in Italy. Mrs. Rose Arnott (Tweed Conrad) and Mrs. Lotty Wilton (Avila Reese), who belong to the same church but have never spoken, become acquainted after reading a newspaper advertisement for a villa in Italy that is available for rent. They find some common ground in that both are struggling to make the best of unhappy marriages. Having decided to seek other ladies to help share expenses, they reluctantly take on the irritable Mrs. Graves (Anne Ripley) and the charming Lady Caroline Bramble (Kate Fox Marcom). These four women come together at the villa and find rejuvenation in the tranquil beauty of their surroundings, rediscovering hope and love. Enchanted April is beautifully directed by Cris Cassell and produced by Maureen O’Donoghue.

Director Cris Cassell has orchestrated something truly magical in this play. Each actor is so well cast. You have until April 14, 2013 to become enchanted and charmed.

Thurs performances 7:30 pm; Fri-Sat at 8 pm. and Sunat 2 pm. At the Barn Theatre, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Tickets, 415-456-9555, X 1 or rossvalleyplayers.com.

Coming up at RVP: All My Sons by Arthur Miller, directed by Caroline Altman, May 17-June 16, 2013. Flora Lynn Isaacson

April 2013

 

Remembering DR. Annette Lust

Jean Annette Lust

DR. ANNETTE LUST, longtime columnist for the Westside Observer, passed away on February 20, 2013. She died quickly, peacefully and surrounded by loved ones.
Dr. Lust was professor emerita at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, where she taught mime, theatre production, dramatic literature, and French language and literature, and founded the Fringe of Marin that produces short works by Bay Area playwrights, directed and acted by Bay Area directors and actors.

She was the author of From the Greek Mimes to Marcel Marceau and Beyond, a definitive work that chronicles the many visages of the art of mime, and received the Choice Outstanding Academic Book 2000 Award, and the George Freedly Memorial Award Finalist Place in 2000. She recently wrote Bringing the Body to the Stage and Screen, published in 2012.

An accomplished teacher and author, she received the Palmes Académiques from the French Government in 1973 for her teaching of French language and literature, her activity in French theatre and culture, and her publications on French mime and theatre. She was a member of the S.F. Bay Area Critics Circle for the selection of Theatre Awards, and served on the jury of the international Mimos Festival in Périgeux, France since 1990 for the Critics Jury Award for best performing group.

A former board member and vice-president and secretary of the National Association of Movement Theatre, Annette Lust was active in national and international organizations that promote the art of mime

She had a theatre column in the Westside Observer and on Forallevents.com, occasionally wrote reviews for the S.F. Bay Times, and published articles on international theatre festivals and theatre book reviews for the Association of Movement Theatre Educators.

She is survived by two daughters, Eliane and Evelyne, both professional pianists, a son-in-law, Aaron Kernitz, a well-known composer, and two grandchildren, Jonah and Delphine.

Plans are afoot to organize a celebration of Annette’s dynamic life in the Spring when her family can all gather together — perhaps even in conjunction with the 2013 Fringe in April or May so that Annette’s wider circle might attend to toast her life.

She always said she just wanted a big, fun party when her time came!

Steel Magnolias

The Novato Theater Company currently presents Steel Magnolias, a story of love and trust among six very different women. This 1987 play by Robert Harling has a title which suggests the female characters are as delicate as magnolias, but as tough as steel.

The action of the play centers on Truvy’s (Karen Clancy) beauty parlor in Chinquapin, Louisiana and the women who regularly gather there. The drama begins on the morning of Shelby’s (Erin Ashe) wedding and covers events over the next three years. We get a glimpse of the unlikely friendship between Clairee (Laura J. Davies), the mayor’s wife and Ouiser (Shirley Nilsen Hall), the town grouch; Annelle’s (Ashley McKenna) transformation from a shy, anxious newcomer in town to a good-time girl and then to a revival-tent Christian and Truvy’s relationship with a man in her family. However, the main story line involves Shelby and her mother, M’Lynn (Susan Zelinsky).

Experienced Director Norman Hall and his wife Shirley Nilsen Hall have both been with NTC for many years. They have teamed up again to re-mix the 1992 production they did of the same play. Twenty-one years ago, Norman directed Shirley as Truvy, she is now playing Ouiser. Karen Clancy, now taking the role of Truvy played Annelle and Susan Zelinsky, who then played Shelby is now playing her mother, M’Lynn.

The realistic beauty parlor set is designed by Harry Reid. Finally, this is not a production which depends on individual performances as much as the ensemble working together. NTC’s Steel Magnolia’s is evidence that a thoughtful, committed production can pull magic out of a script that might otherwise seem a little bitter.

Steel Magnolias runs at Novato Theater Company through March 10, 2013. The location is St. Vincent’s School for Boys at 1 St. Vincent Drive, San Rafael, CA. Performances are at 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call 883-4495 or go online at www.novatotheatercompany.org.

Coming up next at Novato Theater Company will be The Foreigner by Larry Shue, May 23-June 16, 2013.

(Editor’s note) Flora Lynn Isaacson will continue to write theater reviews for the Westside Observer and will endeavor to continue the work that Dr. Lust devoted much of her life to, the Fringe of Marin. “In the arts and in theater, the fringe is the outskirts,” Lust explained.

March 2013

Pack of Lies

Ross Valley Players is currently presenting Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore, directed by Molly Noble.

Pack of Lies takes place in a suburb of London during the autumn and winter of 1960-1961. The main events of the story are true.

In 1961, Peter and Helen Kroger (Craig Neibaur and Mary Ann Rodgers) are two Americans living in a London suburb convicted of spying for the Russians and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Whitemore writes a powerfully moving fictional account of the events leading up to their arrest.

The action is centered on the totally unsuspecting Jackson household—Bob (Malcolm Rodgers), Barbara (Tina Taylor) and their daughter Julie (Tess O’Brien). The Jacksons live opposite the Krogers, believing them to be a convivial Canadian couple and their closest friends. Then a mysterious stranger, Mr. Stewart (Steve Price) arrives, announcing he is from MIS and quietly coerces the Jacksons into allowing their house to be used as a surveillance post. During the nightmare of the months that follow, the Jackson’s tranquil, happy life is shattered as the truth about the much-loved friends is gradually revealed to them. Feeling helpless in a world of deception and treachery, Barbara reaches a breaking point with the agonizing realization that the Krogers have betrayed her, and she, in turn, has betrayed the Krogers.

In her first directorial role with Ross Valley Players, Molly Noble is to be congratulated, with a few minor criticisms. The pace lags at times, and the mostly authentic British dialects are at times difficult to understand. Especially effective are the monologues each character delivers to the audience when each actor steps out on a platform down stage. The split set by Ron Krempetz is excellent and works very well with the costumes of Michael Berg.

Tina Taylor as Barbara Jackson looked wonderfully anxious throughout as she fussed over her wayward daughter, ably played by Tess O’Brien and contrasted beautifully with the exuberant warmth of Mary Ann Rodgers as Helen Kroger. Craig Neibaur played an enigmatic Peter Kroger who gave nothing away, while Steve Price gave a strong and well-paced performance as the mysterious Mr. Stewart, whose surveillance operation led to the Kroger’s downfall. Also, the beautifully observed performance of Malcolm Rodgers as the genial, bewildered Bob Jackson was genuinely moving. There were nice supporting performances, especially by Melanie Bandera-Hess as Thelma and Livia Demarchi as Sally, the two MIS girls who stay with the Jacksons during the operation.

Pack of Lies is a bit on the “talky” side and demands your strict attention but it is well worth the effort!

Pack of Lies runs Jan 18–Feb 17 at Ross Valley Players Barn Theatre. Reservations 415-456-9555 x1.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be Enchanted April by Matthew Barber directed by Cris Cassell, Mar14–Apr 14. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Bell Book and Candle

SF Playhouse ushers in the holiday spirit for the company’s 10th season with the romantic comedy, Bell Book and Candle by John Van Druten, directed by Bill English.

The play opened on Broadway in 1950 and starred Lily Palmer and Rex Harrison. The movie version which starred Kim Novak and James Stewart opened in 1958.

Gillian Holroyd (Lauren English) is a young, sultry witch who admires her neighbor, a publisher, Shep Henderson (William Connell). One day he stumbles into her gallery to use the telephone. When she learns he is about to marry an old college enemy of hers, she impulsively takes revenge by casting a love spell on him that backfires when she ends up falling for him herself.

Once Gillian falls in love, she loses her witch’s powers. She is unable to cast spells. Her sister Queenie (Zehra Berkman) ,and brother Nicky (Scott Cox), a witch and warlock, do not quite know how to relate to this new human Gillian.

Lauren English sparkles as Gillian! She plays her role with a combination of sophistication and naivete, and creates a warm and touching portrait of an unhappy, bewildered witch.

William Connell gives a solid performance as Henderson, the straight-laced book publisher. Gillian’s wacky sister Queenie is played by Zehra Berkman with delightful nervous energy. Scott Cox gives a strong performance as Nicky, Gillian’s immature brother. Louis Parnell gives a flawless performance as Sidney Redlitch, who wants Henderson to publish his manuscript on modern-day witchcraft.

Bill English’s handsome set, done in red velvet, gives a marvelous view of the Chrysler and the Empire State Buildings from Gillian’s arched picture window. The imaginative costume design is by Abra Berman, with Kurt Landisman doing the lighting design.

Bill English has assembled five talented actors for this production and keeps the action fast and snappy. Bell Book and Candle is light holiday entertainment and this production is thoroughly enjoyable.

Performances: SF Playhouse, 450 Post St. (2nd flr b/n Powell and Mason). For tickets, contact the SF Playhouse box office at 415-677-9596 or go online at www.sfplayhouse.org.

Coming up next at SF Playhouse will be The Motherf**cker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Bill English, opening January 29, 2013. Flora Lynn Isaacson

February 2013

Another Way Home

Anna Ziegler’s world premiere of her comedy drama Another Way Home hits home concerning the alienation and communication between parents and their children today. And it also depicts family life and the problems of a couple’s marriage relationship

Joey has been sent to a summer camp by his New York Jewish parents, Lillian and Phillip, who decide to visit him. When they arrive his mother flippantly announces that the fifteen year old has had ADD, ADHD, autism, anxiety and mood problems, and finally depression. Joey resents his Mother’s overly protective attitude when, among other things, she advises him to use lotion on his skin to avoid getting a cancer. A depressed Joey blurts out at one point “I’d better enjoy life before life turns to shit!” Joey’s indifference angers his father who reminds him that he has paid for his camp vacation. This triggers the disappearance of Joey who runs away followed by his parents searching for him for hours. Joey’s friend and counselor Mike T encounters Joey and tries to tell him about how fortunate he is to have such caring parents. Meanwhile as they search for Joey his frightened parents wonder whether Joey has fallen off a cliff or is wounded or killed himself. This leads to torturing each other with accusations of poor parenthood that begin to tear their marriage apart as the play moves to its dramatic climax.

Vividly directed by Meredith McDonough, the play’s action moves forward with a good use of the space, and with movement and speech that are expressive and well-projected to an audience seated three quarters around a bare wooden stage. Annie Smart’s propless stage appeals to the spectator’s imagination to envisage a summer camp, along with her simple costume design that suits each of the characters

Dynamic interpretations are played of the mother by Kim Martin-Cotton, and the father by Mark Pinter, with a challenging teenage characterization of a negative, depressed Joey by Daniel Petzoid, and believable interpretations by Jeremy Kahn as Joey’s friend Mike T. and Riley Krull as daughter Nora.

Ending more like a drama than a comedy, Ziegler’s insightful piece pulls at the heart strings of parents or children involved in the problems of parental upbringing. Although the play may be less gripping for spectators who have never been in a parental relationship, it is nonetheless a moving portrayal that grabs you as the playwright empathetically depicts the inner feelings of parents in times of fear, anxiety and crisis concerning their children. Beyond this, the playwright pertinently touches on the alienation and the difficulty of communication between parents and children in the 21st century.

The Magic Theatre intrepidly continues its 45 years of new play development with the production of challenging works such as Another Way Home.

Another Way Home until December 2nd. Info/ tickets 415-441.8822 or magictheatre.org Annette Lust

You Can’t Take It With You

You Can’t Take It With You by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart just opened as the second show of Ross Valley Players’ 83rd season. At the helm is James Dunn, renowned Marin stage director.

This timeless classic relates the humorous encounter of a conservative family and the lunatic household of Martin Vanderhof. The play takes place in the Vanderhof home in New York in the mid-1930’s on a magnificently detailed set by Ken Rowland. “Grandpa” Martin Vanderhof (Wood Lockhart) was once part of the competitive business world. However, when one day he realized he was unhappy and stopped working and began doing whatever he wanted to do. His daughter Penny (Maureen O’Donoghue) writes plays simply because a typewriter was accidentally delivered to her house. Her son-in-law, Paul Sycamore (Richard Kerrigan) spends hours in the basement making illegal fireworks. His granddaughter Essie (LeAnne Rumbel) has been clumsily attempting ballet for over eight years. His grandson-in-law, Ed (Ross Berger) plays the xylophone (or tries to). In addition, many “odd ball” friends come and go from the Vanderhof house. Some never leave. Mr. DePinna (Bob Wison), the man who used to deliver ice, now helps out with the fireworks.

In contrast are the unhappy Kirbys. Tony (Isaac Islas), the attractive son of the Kirbys, falls in love with Alice Sycamore (Robyn Grahn) and brings his parents to dine at the Sycamore home on the wrong evening. The shock sustained by Mr. and Mrs. Kirby (Stephen Dietz and Robyn Wiley), who are indignant from the cheap food offered, tells Alice that marriage with Tony is out of the question. The Sycamores find it hard to understand this viewpoint. Tony believes the Sycamores live the right way with love and care for each other, while his own family is the one that is crazy. In the end, Mr. Kirby is converted to the happy madness of the Sycamores after he happens to drop in during a visit by the Grand Duchess of Russia, Olga Katrina (Christina Jacqua) who is currently earning her living as a waitress at Child’s Restaurant.

Under the skillful direction of James Dunn, the Vanderhof household is filled with activity that is well chosen and purposeful to each actor. This play is delightful fun for the entire family.

You Can’t Take It With You at Ross Valley Players Nov 15-December 16, 2012. For reservations, call 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or go online at www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Coming up: Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore directed by Molly Noble, Jan 18-Feb 17. Flora Lynn Isaacson

The Hundred Flowers Project

Local playwright Christopher Chen’s world premiere of The Hundred Flowers Project, presented by Crowded Fire Theatre Company and the Playwrights Foundation, opened at the S.F. Thick House on October 29th. The play, at times realistic and at others surreal and abstract, is performed by an excellent cast of multi-national actors under the direction of Desdamona Chiang. It depicts Mao Tse Tung’s efforts to modernize China to appease the masses. The use of propaganda in China’s revolution is compared with the 21st century modern multi-media’s influence on Western masses. As this sociopolitical content develops, it forms into a play within a play that takes on more human interest when we are drawn into a rapport between Julie (Cindy Im) and Mike (Wiley Namen Strasser), married and in conflict as to where the play’s development should be going. Mike disdains Julie’s preference for a narrative structure and soon deceives her with his ex, Lily (Anna Ishida). Julie is then looked upon as a martyr who is considered essential to the play.

The playwright’s intention “to mingle technology with history” is realized through a comparison of Mao’s attempts to create a cultural revolution to pacify his masses with our “chaotic Facebook-a-tized mass consciousness.” The set (Maya Linke) is filled with pieces of scenery lying about along with the use of projections and technology to intensify the playwright’s message.

The director and actors successfully concretize the play’s abstract and surreal quality that they are free to continually spin before us in a spirit of experimentation.

The Hundred Flowers Project poses a multitude of questions concerning the path of experimental theatre, as well as that of our globalized world : in Chen’s words “a reality that is constantly shifting and redefining itself.”

For info on Crowded Fire’s productions call 415-746-9238 or visit www.crowdedfire.org Annette Lust

JANUARY AUDITIONS FOR SPRING FRINGE OF MARIN SHORT PLAYS

–All Ages And Types Accepted. January 22-23, 2013 Info 415-673-3131(11 am–2 pm).

December 2012

Strange Case of Citizen de la Cruz

The world premiere of poet, essayist, and literature and language professor at Hunter College and New York University, Luis H. Francia’s first full-length play depicts the demise of Bayani de la Cruz, a Philippine patriot during the Marshall Law Era under the Ferdinand Marcos Regime. In his play Francia authentically presents the horrors of human abuse during this regime. Strengthening this portrayal of the dehumanization of the country’s inhabitants is the description of the loss of male virility.

Quack Doctor Mang Kiko (colorfully created as an eccentric by Percival Arcibal) sells a potion to cure impotent husbands. Does Mang Kiko’s potion symbolize the revolution as a cure against the regime? And psychiatrist Dr. Santiago receives requests from wives (emotionally well portrayed by Christine Jugueta as Nena de la Cruz) to uplift their husbands morale and regain their potency. Meanwhile militant Captain Rivera (performed with violent physical tactics by Tasi Alabastro) will protect the doctor from condemnation of his revolutionary views if he cures the Captain’s own impotency.

We witness scenes of brutal physical and mental torture. De la Cruz (believably played by Ryan Morales), who once kept numerous flags of his country in his bedroom, is caught stealing passports and tortured by Captain Rivera and his staff before our eyes

Directed by Jeffrey Lo with an able cast, the production, performed in an intimate stage space with well-selected musical renditions, holds the audience’s attention

As it powerfully dramatizes these events during the Marshall Law Era, the play reveals the actions of extremist forces under the Ferdinand Marcos regime that aimed to strengthen the ruling class and demoralize the country’s citizens.

Bindlestiff Studio, the epicenter for Pilipino and Filipino performing arts, provides Filipino Americans with diverse artistic activities to evolve community theatre with creative new works and talent.

For information about plays at the Bindlestiff Studio contact 415-255.0440 or 800.838.3006 or visit www.bindlestiffstudio.org. Annette Lust

TopDog/Underdog

In her play, Pulitzer awardee Suzan-Lori Parks vividly describes the brotherly love and fraternal resentment of two African American brothers living with a sense of humor in a room without water and a toilet. Abandoned by their parents at an early age, Booth (Biko Eisen-Martin), a swift moving thief, looks after older brother Lincoln (Bowman Wright), a former Three-card Monte hustler. Booth looks up to Lincoln, who enacts President Lincoln at a storefront. But Lincoln’s struggle to obliterate his addiction by enacting President Lincoln intensifies his conflict with returning to card hustling. When the brothers look back at happier family times, these memories are buried by the realization that their parents left them to their own destiny. “Then it was you and me against the world,” says one brother to the other.

Can they survive if they give up making illicit money and robbing? And when Booth finally gets Lincoln to show him the card moves, Lincoln agrees only if they play for big money. This leads to one brother losing his cherished savings given by his parents that brings the action to a stirring melodramatic climax.

Expertly directed by Timothy Williams, the actors’ use of vibrant physical movement, especially by Biko-Eisen Martin as Booth, animates the actors’ dialogue.

Stage sets by Mikiko Useugi and costumes by Callie Floor illustrating the brothers’ poverty play an essential role in the dramatic action

Along with the realistic portrayal by Wright and Eisen-Martin of two jobless brothers presented in colorful street slang enriched with lyrical rap during the card playing scenes, the piece is a heart wrenching presentation of fraternal warfare and love, as well as a revealing testimony of the hardships of the African American struggle for economic and social survival.

TopDog/UnderDog plays until October 28st. For info about the upcoming Joe Landry’s “It’s A Wonderful Life Radio Play” call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org Annette Lust

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

A feisty rock musical celebrates SF Playhouse’s new theatre with former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown opening the celebration of SF Playhouse’s 10th season at its new Post Street theatre, the Rock Musical got off to a spirited start. From a modest boyhood on up re-envisioned, the Rock Musical rapidly proceeds to Jackson’s heroic struggle to rid our country of the French, English and Spanish land possessions, his moving of the Indians westward, and his intensive aggression with the frontier fighters to win the people’s voice. While being attacked by the Spaniards he meets Rachel, who cares for his wounds and the two fall in love. After becoming governor of New Orleans he runs for president and loses. Four years later he is victorious in removing political power from the elite and forms the democratic party and becomes U S president. A sad note is the death of Rachel, fatigued from Jackson’s ardent political activity.

Directed by Jon Tracy with music direction by Jonathan Fadner, the musical is performed by a strong cast of singer/actors. Ashkon Davaran sings and plays Jackson with vim and vigor. Angel Burgess is a sensitive Rachel and Ann Hopkins a colorful and amusing storyteller.

The production as a whole has the energy and naiveté of a young people’s theatre that suits Alex Timber’s book and Michael Friedman’s music, offering a rugged unembellished depiction of the hearty pioneer spirit of our early Americans struggling to establish a nation.

This forceful historical dramatization leaves an image of Andrew Jackson’s profound devotion to strengthening his country’s democratic spirit that has the spectator ‘s heart bursting with proud patriotism as the curtain falls..

Bloody Bloody Jackson plays through Nov. 24th.Next up at the SF Playhouse is John Van Druten’s Bell, Book, and Candle. Info: 415-677-9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org Annette Lust

Nunsense

A popular, uproarious, rollicking musical at Novato Theater Company

One of the longest running musicals that opened at the Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre in 1985 and continued at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre in New York to appear since then in American community and summer stock theatre is presently playing at the Novato Theater Company in the 32 Ten Studios, an intimate venue on Kerner Boulevard in San Rafael.

Dan Goggin’s vaudevillesque musical revolves around a group of nuns who turn into Prima Donna starlets when they initiate a fundraiser talent show to find money to bury nuns who died of botulism from eating a vichyssoise soup made by one of them. It features the colorful characters of five nuns. Pamela Drummer-Williams plays an authoritative down-to-earth African American Mother Mary Regina; Debra Harvey, an African American Sister Mary Hubert shows her love for singing; Daniela Innocenti-Beem as Sister Robert Anne energizes her sister nuns as well as her audience with her off the wall clowning; Melissa Claire is the demure ballet dancing Sister Mary Leo; and Karen Kizer creates a naively confused Sister Mary Amnesia who has been hit over the head by a cross

Each of the five nuns appears before us not at all as we envisage nuns, but rather to sing, dance, joke, and boldly and cheerfully interact with the audience. Their daring fun-loving antics that know no limits have these rascal sisters provoking contagious laughter among the spectators throughout.

The elated joy with which these nuns sing, dance and clown evokes awe from one nun’s presentation of a song or dance, to another’s, including the ensemble tap dance that brings the house down. Among the songs and scenes that grab the audience are Baking with the BVM (Sr. Julia), I Just Want to Be a Star (Sr. Robert Anne), Nunsense Is Habit Forming (Cast), We’ve Got to Clean Out the Freezer (Cast), Just a Coupl’a Sisters (Srs. Mary Regina & Mary Hubert), Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step (Sr. Mary Hubert and Cast).

Under the batons of stage director/choreography Carl Jordan and musical director/pianist Andrew Klein, the slapstick, miming, clowning dance, singing, and excellent piano renditions (Andrew Klein) of this Nunsense production are integrated into a harmonious delightful ensemble.

Nunsense Plays through Nov. 11. Info: 415-883-4498 or visit novatotheatercompany.org Annette Lust

November 2012

About the Baby

Albee’s challenging absurdist Play About the Baby (1996) premiered on the West Coast at San Francisco’s Custom Made Theatre, bringing a stark caricature of young marriage, the birth and loss of a baby, and an older couple’s lessons.

The first half of the play presents a realistic view of an amorous young couple running around nude on stage, making love off stage, and having a baby. An older couple arrives with stories including some about the Woman’s past lovers, the truth of which the Man questions. The young couple asks why they have come they reply to take away their baby.

The second half of the play continues in vaudeville and commedia style, during which the older couple unrolls the empty baby blanket to prove that there never was a baby. This farce-like approach heightens the caricatured tone of the action, and sharpens the irony of the message: life brings loss and wounds, and, in Man’s words, “If you don’t have wounds how do you know you’re alive?”

Does Albee’s depiction of loss stem from his belief that deprivation occurs when an adopted child is removed from one mother and given to an another?

Is this sordidly fascinating combination of reality and non-reality a metaphor of the playwright’s nightmarish experience of being an adopted child?

Does the play’s absurdist conclusion reflect the playwright’s concern for undergoing life’s losses that we need to face to better know ourselves?

Masterfully directed by veteran director Brian Katz, who incorporates interesting Commedia and vaudeville, the role of The Woman is performed with charm and command by Linda Ayres Frederick and The Man with vivacity and wit by Richard Aiello. Anya Kazimierski and Shane Rhodes bring youthful freshness and innocence to their roles of Girl and Boy.

Sarah Phykitt’s multiple chairs nailed on the back wall call to mind Ionesco’s Chairs.

Maxx Kursunski’s costumes enhance the absurdist element.

Kudos to Custom Made’s efforts and perseverance to produce thought provoking absurdist theatre inciting questions.

About the Baby plays until Oct. 7. Info and Tracy Lett’s Superior Donuts 798-2682 www.CustomMade.org. Annette Lust

The Other Place

Playwright Starr White’s psycological and scientific mystery at MTCm,The Other Place, expertly directed by Loretta Greco, who directed White’s Annapurna last year at the Magic, revolves around Juliana Smithton, a brilliant biophysicist specializing in neurology whose husband has filed for divorce, whose daughter has disappeared with an older man, and who feels she is on the edge of dementia and brain cancer. We experience the protagonist’s emotional dilemma that has driven her to “the other place,” psychologically and symbolically represented by a stormy family weekend home in Cape Cod. We follow her efforts to look inwards to solve her loss of both daughter and mind.

The play’s subtle probing to uncover the mystery of Juliana’s psychological disintegration brings substance to this thriller about family life, and poses the philosophical question as to whether restoration can be achieved. The play holds us in suspension as we move through Juliana’s thought processes in plot twists that flow smoothly from present to past.

Credit should be given to Henny Russell’s interpretation of a strong-willed woman, broken down and fighting to salvage the loss of her daughter and her mind. Russell dramatically portrays this conflict in the scene in which she mistakes another young woman for her daughter in their Cape Cod home.

Other credits are due to Donald Sage Mackay as the impatient and concerned husband, Carrie Paff as the empathetic Woman, and Patrick Russell as the Man.

White’s Other Place brings experimental elements within a well-structured form, and challenging content that suits the Magic Theatre’s commitment to present works with innovative form and content.

The Other Place plays until October 7. For information on The Other Place and upcoming productions call 415-441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. Annette Lust

Lend Me A Tenor

Ross Valley Players opens its 83rd season with Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig, in which Kris Neely takes on the directorial challenge of creating a three-ring circus of slamming doors, double takes, and pratfalls at top speed.

In the slapstick sweepstakes, David Kester, as the long-suffering opera company director, wins hands down, followed by Robert Nelson and Craig Christiansen, who do a wonderful second act dance as the two Othellos being pursued by women (Christina Jacqua as a lecherous dowager, Gwen Kingston as an ingenue admirer, Dylan Cooper as a prima donna who seduces the tenor for her ticket to the Met, and Amanda Grey as a sexy bellhop). Laura Domingo as the tenor’s long (but not silently) suffering wife was almost as skillful and overblown in her stage Italian as her husband in their arguments.

Actors hustle in and out of six doors in Ken Rowland’s handsome red and white set, hiding in bedrooms and closets, disappearing in the nick of time into the hallway or the kitchen. The beautiful costumes by Michael Berg are easy on the eyes.

Lend Me A Tenor achieves comic delirium at the curtain call when the cast romps through a two minute mimed version of the lunatic plot, more charming and comical than the preceding two hours.

Runs Sept.14-Oct. 14 at Ross Valley Players’ Theatre. Reservations: 456-9555, ext. 1. Up next at Ross Valley Players is You Can’t Take It With You by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, directed by Jim Dunn, Nov16-Dec 16. Flora Lynn Isaacson

October 2012

A Challenging Our Country’s Good at Porchlight

Seated in the beautiful outdoor Redwood Theatre at the Marin Art and Garden Center, the play opens with an Australian aboriginal announcing that we will be viewing a play about dreams. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play about an Australian penal colony putting on a play centers on whether the prisoners’ nightmarish incarceration can be transformed through the realization of a dream project.

The play begins in the first British penal colony in New South Wales in 1789 where Lieutenant Ralph Clark is staging the Restoration Comedy The Recruiting Officer to raise the prisoners’ morale. The rehearsals of the illiterate inmates and a leading lady about to go to the gallows are disrupted by Clark’s fellow officers’ insults. These conflicts between the officers and the prisoners are based on true accounts found in journals.

Directed by Ann Brebner and Tara Blau, the 22 roles of prisoners and officers are dynamically interpreted by one half of that amount of talented Bay Area actors. A set with stone gradations is effective and period costumes are well suited to prisoners and officers. The voices projected from this rustic stage could be amplified in some sections.

Adapted from Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker, the play premiered in 1988 at the Royal Court Theatre, to later receive the Olivier Play of the Year Award and the New York Critics Best Foreign Play Award. Our Country’s Good offers a humanistic lesson about how condemned members of society can better their condition through art and creativity. It calls to mind Bay Area projects such as Marin Shakespeare’s Lesley Currier’s stagings of Shakespeare plays with the prisoners of San Quentin. Porchlight’s production magnificently succeeds in communicating the transcendental power of theatre to transform human experience into realms of imagination beyond reality.

Our Country’s Good plays until September 8th. Tickets: 415-251-1027 or porchlight.net. Annette Lust

A Spirited Noel Coward Comedy at Cal Shakes

California Shakespeare Theatre continues its 39th season with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, directed by ACT Associate Artistic Director and Cal Shakes Associate Artist Mark Rucker. Noel Coward has such fun making mischief with marriage and mediums, and Director Mark Rucker never interferes with this enjoyment. His light touch gives the actors freedom to spirit themselves around Annie Smart’s spacious, upscale living room to create a delicious play soufflé. Six of Rucker’s seven actors are from ACT. Anthony Fusco, a regular at Cal Shakes, plays Charles as a self-absorbed, upper-class, witty novelist. René Augesen portrays Ruth as rather staid and conventional, while Jessica Kitchens is both sexy and kittenish as Elvira. Domenique Lozano as the boisterous Mme Arcati practically steals the show in Katherine Roth’s original costumes. Keith Rolston is Dr. Bradman, Melissa Smith is Mrs. Bradman, and Rebekah Brockman is the dim-witted servant Edith.

Much of what makes this production so successful is how well the actors speak. Their British accents are accurate, their diction precise and their voices commanding. Even though Coward wrote Blithe Spirit during England’s battle scarred year of 1941, this play still feels fresh today.

Blithe Spirit will run at California Shakespeare Theatre Aug. 8–Sep. 7 at Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda. For tickets, call 510-548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org. Coming up at Cal Shakes is Shakespeare’s Hamlet September 19-October 14, 2012. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation

From the beginning, the audience’s curiosity is peaked by the strange title of the play, and even more so when we watch four actors and a coach in exercise clothes (Christine Crook) lying down in a circle in a bare classroom (appropriately designed by Andrew Boyce), each one counting a number. Through this exercise and a following one in which the actors each tell a story of an experience they had, we divine that these are exercises in an acting class. This is verified when Lauren, a sixteen year old rebel, asks “Are we going to be doing any real acting?” And Marty the teacher replies that they are already acting.

As the exercises revolve more around the personal life of each student, including the teacher, we empathize with such characters as Theresa (Arwen Anderson), a young enthusiastic New York actress who underwent a bad relationship; James, Marty’s older husband (L. Peter Callender) and his shaky marriage to Marty; Schultz,(Robert Parsons) a divorced lonely builder of chairs seeking another partner; Lauren (Marissa Keltie), a bright teenager hiding her sharp intelligence behind her bangs, and Marty, (Julia Brothers), an energetic teacher undergoing James’ unfaithfulness.

The playwright appears to have three purposes. The first is to present a satire on teaching theatre, which soon resembles drama therapy sessions, which in turn introduce the characters in a spontaneous dramatic action.

Secondly, the playwright purposely abandons abiding by the well-made play, unity of content, character development, and the use of words to develop a dramatic action.

Third, the playwright excludes the conventional use of words to develop the dramatic action and the characterization through movement and periods of silence. The audience is challenged to observe the action or non action visually to grasp what is happening as well as to understand the characters’ motivations.

Annie Baker ‘s Obie Award-winning New American Play, co-produced with Encore Theatre in San Francisco and directed by Kip Fagan, introduces us to an original voice in American theatre. The playwright fearlessly abandons the importance of the spoken word in today’s theatre to opt for silence and stillness. Will her plays lead to a renewal of twenty-first century theatre to bring about a harmonized betrothal of movement and silence with voice and text?

Circle Mirror Transformation until Sept. 2. Info: 415-388-5208 or www.marintheatre.org Annette Lust

September 2012

 

Salomania and Trial of Dancer Maude Allan at the Aurora

The Time, 1918, the Subject, a Court Case in Great Britain, the Dramatic Conflict, Dancer Maude Allan Sues Noel Pemberton-Billing for criminal libel.

The play revolves around the accusation of Maude Allan, in Pemberton-Billing’s Vigilante newspaper article The Cult of the Clitoris, of being a lesbian and sympathizing with Germany’s intention to weaken Britain by encouraging homosexuality. But since Allan portrayed the Dance of the Seven Veils, based on Salome, Oscar Wilde’s play prohibited from being performed in Britain, her chance of winning her case was minimal.

Founded on the original transcripts of this case, auteur/stage director Mark Jackson depicts scenes of the First World War in the trenches, as well as in London.

After Allan appears, a scene with British soldiers in the trenches, and later joking and describing their favorite chocolates, that does not seem pertinent.

In the trial that follows, Maud Allan sues British right-wing M.P. Pemberton-Billing for having seen her in a banned private performance and published an article accusing her of being an indecent dancer and lesbian. In a final scene, Allan moves around dead soldiers, gently touching their heads to soothe their violent deaths that evokes Salome’s kiss on the lips of John the Baptist’s severed head.

Strong acting is offered by the entire cast, Kevin Clarke as Oscar Wilde, Mark Anderson Phillips as Pemberton-Billing, Liam Vincent, Alex Moggridge, Anthony Nemirovsky, and Marilee Talkington all playing several roles and a soldier. Madeline H.D. Brown’s Maud Allan is more ladylike than seductive and restrains the very quality for which she was condemned.

Although the poetry and social wisdom of the play gets bogged down by the length and war scenes played with heavy English accents and rapidly-delivered lines, it is creatively written, precisely directed by Jackson and morally and socially challenging as it takes us beyond the story of Maude Allan to depict the futility of war, media sensationalism, Gay rights, equality of genders, and free artistic expression.

Salomania closes July 22. For info call 510-843-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org

Eve Ensler’s Emotional Creature “It’s a girl thing”

Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler’s Emotional Creature, directed by Jo Bonney, offers authentic monologues by young girls revealing their most innermost thoughts. Girls from countries ranging from Africa and China to Europe and America begin by describing their relationships with boys, girlfriends, parents and current issues like global warming and gay rights. During the ninety minute piece they express their emotional reactions, along with song and dance, in a collective and spirited uprising.

Among their secret sorrows are those of an American student who, alienated from her friends Wendy and Julie for not living up to their teenage expectations, desperately pleads that they not discard her.

Another girl with a big nose liked her clownish nose. But when her parents forced her to undergo a nose operation to diminish it she lost the ability to make others laugh.

An African American did not take precautions during sex and now feels the baby growing inside of her without knowing what to do with it

Another sixteen year old thinks she is little more than a garbage can and a slave to men. Her father’s best friend raped her and her parents blamed and disowned her and left her homeless.

A girl dressed like a boy and wearing a wedding veil is to be married according to her parents’ wish, but takes a pill that is about to explode and spatter her bloody insides onto her parents’ foreheads forever.

These revelations and others are followed by their signature song “I am an emotional creature” and the declaration, “It’s a girl thing!”

But is it only a girl thing? Getting the message to fathers, brothers, male family members as well as boyfriends could render them allies in recognizing the injustices young girls suffer help strengthen their empowerment.

The six girls, played by Ashley Bryant, Molly Carden, Emily S. Grosland, Joaquina Kalukango, Sade Namei, and Olivia Oguma, offer testimonies that never seem to be acted but rather project as true to life accounts of girls confiding in us about their emotional and physical abuse.

The production staff, scenic and costume design by Myung Hee Cho, lighting, Lap Chi Chu, sound, Jake Rodriguez, choreography by Luam, and music and musical direction by Chari-Johan Lingenfelder contributed to this energetic ensemble of drama/comedy, dance and music.

Creature thru July 15. 510-647-2949 berkeleyrep.org Annette Lust

Cal Shakes’ Tempest Both Creative and Fun

In complete contrast to Jon Tracy’s dark and gloomy adaptation of The Tempest at Marin Shakespeare last September, The Tempest at Cal Shakes is lighthearted and fun. Director Jonathan Moscone’s adaptation trims the text, cuts the subsidiary characters, and rearranges the text for six actors to play eleven roles. 

When we walk into Bruns Amphitheatre, we see a rough-hewn wooden boat run painfully aground. Emily Greene effectively designed this shipwreck of sea chests to reveal a wealth of props, nets and books all over the place. 

Scene One opens with a violent storm that befalls Alonso, King of Naples (James Carpenter); Antonio, Duke of Milan (Catherine Castellanos); Alonso’s brother Sebastian (Emily Kitchens); and Alonso’s son Ferdinand (Nicholas Pelczar) on their journey through the Mediterranean. They all wear yellow slicker raincoats designed by Anna Oliver. This storm has been conjured by the magic of Prospero (Michael Winters), the exiled Duke of Milan, unjustly ousted by his brother and washed up on a remote island with his daughter, Miranda (Emily Kitchens), where he is a master magician and a king. 

Next, Erica Chong Shuch, who choreographed the production, emerges from a trunk as Ariel to do Prospero’s bidding. She charmingly flits and flies about assisted by three other dancers. Soon Ferdinand meets Prospero’s daughter Miranda and the two fall in love. 

The high comedy scenes between Caliban (Catherine Castellanos), Trinculo (Nicholas Pelczar), and Stephano (Michael Winters) are the strongest, with much audience involvement.

Ferdinand and Miranda happily marry to Nat King Cole singing “Stardust,” and Prospero reveals to Antonio the results of his “rough magic.” Michael Winters gave a solid performance as Prospero. 

Thru May 30-June 24 at Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda. Call 510-548-9666 or calshakes.org.

Coming up is Spunkfrom July 4-29. Spunk is made up of three tales by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by George C. Wolfe and directed by Patricia McGregor. Flora Lynn Isaacson

July-Aug 2012

Berkeley Rep’s In Paris

A European Multimedia Visual Challenge In Paris, based on a short story by Ivan Bunin and staged as a multimedia production, moves at a slow pace deploying Russian and French dialogue with English subtitles, music, song, mime, video, and several rapid dance moments magnificently performed by Baryshnikov as the male protagonist. In this 1930ties piece, we watch the former principal Kirov Ballet dancer navigate with elegant ease as the retired Russian general seeking the company of a young waitress (Anna Sinyakina), also looking for love and a companion. After the young waitress attends a movie and spends the night with the older man, their search to fulfill their mutual loneliness is for a time resolved.

The sober simplicity of the dramatic action in this eighty minute piece, directed by Dimitry Krymov, sparks the curiosity of the spectator from the opening caricature of a male protagonist, who repeatedly picks up his overcoat and hat that fall from hooks, and in the following scenes as he pursues the young waitress. Although the spectator does not share the thoughts and emotions of the protagonists, he is intrigued as the protagonists climb into a cab, see a movie, go to Montmartre to dance and drink, and then return home to remain together. Prompted to search for the protagonists’ subconscious motives, the spectator participates more actively.

Strong visual elements are the expressive movement (and sometimes the stillness) of both Baryshnikov and Anna Sinyakina and the other cast members, along with Alexiei Ratmansky’s choreography, the imaginative surrealist love scene, and the elegant scenic and costume designs of Maria Tregubova. Added to this are the songs and music of Dimitry Valko, Baryshnikov‘s dynamic (but all too short) dance numbers, and Tei Blow’s accomplished audio and video designs.

The stark simplicity of the production thus serves the visual lyricism of this challenging crossbreeding of postmodern elements depicting two lonely beings in search of love. It is a unique Russian styled postmodern experience and a rare European theatre conception that should not be missed.

For the upcoming Berkeley Rep production of Eve Ensler’s (author of The Vagina Monologues) Emotional Culture, June 14 to July 15, visit www.berkeleyrep.org

Beckett’s Play and Endgame at ACT

In Beckett’s Play, a male and two females are trapped in funeral urns up to their heads, rapidly babbling with search lights on each one as he or she speaks. When we hear such lines as “Get off of me!”, “Finally it was too much” and “Maybe we can be friends” we suspect they are speaking about a conflict between these characters or others in an intimate relationship that has failed.

As in Beckett’s other plays, these characters are trapped and in this case unable to move in their funeral urns as they repeat the grim memories of their relationship. This familiar Beckett absurdist theme depicts the hopeless human condition that leaves one inert before the sordidness and senselessness of life that has to be nonetheless endured.

Expertly directed by Carey Perloff, and well performed by René Augesen, Anthony Fusco, and Annie Purcell, this 25 minute introductory play sets the stage for one of Beckett’s major works, requires the spectator’s collaborative efforts to discover its meaning.

In Beckett’s longer End Game that opened in London in 1959 in French, we see the master Hamm (Bill Irwin), blind and immobile in his chair, his crippled servant Clov (Nick Gabriel) hobbling about, Hamm’s father (Giles Havergal), and his mother Nell (Barbara Oliver) locked in garbage cans. Being miserably stuck is the theme reiterated here in Hamm’s immobility, Clov’s inability to leave Hamm, and Hamm’s parents locked in garbage cans. The title and play’s content suggest that it is the end game of a miserable life. At one point Hamm relates to Clov that one day he will undergo that “miserable end of infinite emptiness and be like a little bit of grit in the middle of the steppe.”

This production of Endgame deepened Beckett’s piece on absurdity that Beckett described as a “despairing play about despair.” Although I missed Bill Irwin’s genius for physical movement, it offered strong static enigmatic moments, as the one in which after Hamm dismisses Clov from his service and Clov appears with his valise and coat to watch Hamm ring the bell he used when he was needed. And Clov stands there as if stuck to the ground. If Clov leaves will this mean a despairing suicide for Clov and death for Hamm? Or will they continue a love-hate relationship of mutual torture?

Director Carey Perloff’s Endgame communicates the meaningful content of Beckett’s oeuvre performed by four of our most dynamic local and national American actors.

For information about Play and Endgame, performing through June 3, and upcoming productions visit ACT-SF.org or call 415-749-2228. Annette Lust

A Behanding in Spokane at S.F. Playhouse Recalls Commedia Lazzi.

Martin McDonagh’s black comedy is about a killer searching for his missing left hand lost when a gang of ruffians forced him to have it chopped off by a train running near Spokane, Washington. Twenty seven years later he meets a couple who take advantage of his mania to locate his severed hand by claiming they have found it. The dramatic action happens in the main protagonist’s (Carmichael played by Rod Knapp)) dingy hotel room where he deals with the low-life Lisa (Melissa Quine) and her black boyfriend Toby (Daveed Diggs) who want cash for having found his hand that is black and, countering Carmichael’s doubts, is dark colored because it is 27 years old.

In A Behanding director Dusi Damilano cleverly brings out the comical aspects of the somewhat less gory but nonetheless sadistic elements of the play. The shots Carmichael takes at the young couple, so comically portrayed by the actor as an eccentric clown, and the couple’s innocence and fear of him as he attempts to blow them up with a lit kerosene hat, are funnier than they are scary. Added to this are the moronic reactions of the desk clerk Mervyn (Alex Hurt) in the midst of all this violence and the angry throwing of human hands at one another, and the play turns into a hilarious farce.

If one can view the play with a detached sense of humor and not take the exaggerated use of blood curdling violence seriously, but rather accept it as a good theatrical device, this dynamically staged and acted play is very enjoyable. In fact The Lieutenant of Inishmore and the Behanding in Spokane recall the crude buffoonery at the basis of the lazzi (comic routines) of the Commedia dell’Arte, the most vital dramatic form in Western Theatre. Carmichael calls to mind the Commedia Pantalone, the older clown who ends up as the butt of the jokes of the younger characters.

Bill English’s attractive set of a cheap hotel could be tawdrier. Miyuki Bierlein’s costumes suit the characters. Michael Palumbo’s lights and Jacquelyn Scott’s props serve the play well.

A Behanding in Spokane that mixes elements of Commedia with those of Irish storytelling is a playfully imaginative production with an enigmatic ending that poses the question “why search so ardently for what we may already have?”

A Behanding Plays until June 30th. For information call 415-677-9596 or visit SFplayhouse.org. Annette Lust

The Night of the Iguana at RVP- A Night to Remember

At the Ross Valley Players, an impressive set by Malcolm Rodgers of La Costa Verde Hotel in Puerto Barrio on the West Coast of Mexico in 1940 greets us. The Ross Valley Players are celebrating Tennessee Williams’ 100th birthday with its own spin on the popular play and movie.

In the exotic world of the Mexican coastal jungle, Williams has given us an exotic collection of characters in search of redemption. Shannon (Eric Burke) had been an Episcopalian clergyman but has fallen from grace and is now a tour guide in a second rate Mexican travel agency.

Shannon abandons a bus full of 20 American Baptist women and seeks refuge in a cheap hotel near the coast run by Maxine (Cat Bish), a fading recent widow who still holds a large appetite for a male in her life. New arrivals there are Hannah (Kristine Ann Lowry), a younger artist who tries to sell her paintings, and Nonno (Wood Lockhart), her grandfather who is a poet. Tied to a post in the yard is a captured iguana—like the others, seemingly at the end of his rope. Williams mixes these characters into a steamy, passionate and dramatic search for redemption. This metaphor is intensified when Shannon tears at his golden cross on his neck, lacerating himself as if to free himself from its constraints.

Sensitively directed by Chris Cassell, this production has outstanding performances by Eric Burke as Lawrence Shannon, Kristine Ann Lowry as Hannah Jelkes and Wood Lockhart as Nonno. They were ably supported by Cat Bish as Maxine, Sandi Rubay as Miss Fellowes, the leader of the Baptist women tourists, and Kushi Beauchamp as Charlotte, a young girl who has a crush on Shannon.

Special mention should be made of Billie Cox’s sound design and the lighting design by Ellen Brooks of the incoming storm. Michael A. Berg deserves credit for his outstanding costume design.

This was truly a night to remember!

Night of the Iguana runs May 17-June 17 at Ross Valley Players’ Barn Theatre at Marin Art and Garden Center. RSVP 415-456-9555x1 visit www.rossvalleyplayers.com Flora Lynn Isaacson

June 2012

Spring 2012 Fringe of Marin

The Fringe of Marin is in its 29th season! Program One opened Friday, April 13th with seven new plays and solos.Talented playwright George Dykstra wrote and directed a clever, funny and poignant comedy, Dirty Questions, in which a very old prostitute, Flora Lynn Van Appledorn, is interviewed by Harold Delinsky to make sure she is being treated fairly, and she in turn introduces him to life. Under Dykstra’s brilliant direction, the two make a dynamic duo.

In three solo monologues, performed by Carol Sheldon and directed by Pamela Rand, Three Old Ladies Talk About Sex. The first old lady is British and has a very broad concept of sex. Sheldon has great animated facial expressions, a great sense of timing and interacts with her audience. In her second monologue, Wanda Lee, a southern lady with a walker, reminisces about her sexual encounter with a hired hand. She is quite believable here and brings her story to life. In her third, a French character with a musical introduction by Piaf, she uses her body quite well but has some difficulty with her French accent. In All Gone, written and directed by Pamela Rand, Pamela Rand and Burl Lampert perform Lisa and Jerry in a madcap farce about liposuction, with perfect timing and hilarious movement .

Next was Recipe for Life, written and performed by Melinda E. Lopez, accompanied by Dale R. Carlson on the sax and flute, Suzanne Birrell on acoustic bass, Gifford Teeple on congas, and David Moltzen on percussion. Lopez, baking a cake for love, not hate, sings about passion, peace and freedom. The fine musical quartet sometimes drowned out the dialog.

A Chance Encounter, by David Hirzel and directed by Jim Colgan, introduced us to John (C. Conrad Cady) and Jane (Crystal Nezgoda), former lovers after a 12 year separation, who run into each other at an airport. Both talented actors have dialog that gets better and more believable as it goes on.

The next play, Noah, The Play, written and directed by Charley Lerrigo and starring Lynda Sheridan as Noah’s wife, Na’amah, Byron Lambie as Noah, and Miyoko Schinner as God, offers Sheridan, who is perfectly cast as Noah’s shrewish wife, and Lambie, a strong festival actor, a challenging role of Noah who questions who and what God is. Miyoko Schinner creates God as a beautiful woman who orders Noah to build his ark. In The Gatekeeper, written by Patricia L. Morin and directed by Suzan Lorraine, lawyer Camille (Terri Barker) meets with the gatekeeper, Ken Sollazzo, at Cemetery of Emotions to change getting rid of anger to getting rid of mistrust. This philosophical thought-provoking play with great dialog depicts the human emotions one experiences through life. Both Ken Sollazzo and Terri Baker give strong performances.

In Program Two, talented playwright Rod McFadden’s Getting the Message is directed by award-winning Director Carol Eggers. Wife Christine Melocik teaches her husband, award-winning actor Rick Roitinger, how to play “Charades” so he can impress his boss, and then she leaves him. There Are No Elephants at Costco, written and directed by Michael Ferguson, is based on a child’s dream about her stuffed animals delightfully, played by Maureen Coyne as Lucky the Mouse, Bill Chessman as Trunk the Elephant, and Velvet Harlow as Nibbles the Rabbit. This play is also perfect for child audiences.

Steve North’s solo performance of The Albatross presents Steve North as a great stand-up comedian with outstanding stage presence in his take on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Identity Theft, written and directed by William O. Chessman III, presents John (Ken Sollazzo) and Jack (George Doerr), who claim to have the same wife Jane (Anne Collins) and the same life The dialog of the Cop played by C. Conrad Cady was a lot of fun. However, this interesting play is a bit repetitive with an unresolved ending.

The second half of Program Two opened with Point of View, written and directed by Suzanne Birrell, based on Rashoman in which each character sees the same event in a different way. Lauren (Trungta Kae Kositchaimongkol) thinks of Andrew as a real gentlemen, while Clarice (Crystal Nezgoda) is defending Andrew, who is her brother, as playing the field, and Sarah (Lauren Arrow), who has broken up with Andrew, thinks of him as Shakespeare’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek. This is such a clever idea and the actresses pull it off with big contrasts.

Hitting the High Note, written and performed by Valentina Osinski and directed by Lauren Lundgren, was a high point of the entire festival. This is a monologue about a singer who wants to be a rock star. The performer is a beautiful woman with excellent energy, wonderful facial expressions, and great stage presence. To accompany her performance, she illustrates it with clever cartoons on an easel. Her timing was right on target!

This was followed by A Pantry Tale: How the Onion Was Nearly Scorched, written by Dr. Annette Lust and directed by Suzanne Birrell. In this charming tale, we learn the genesis of French Onion Soup. This is another charming story for children, especially. Birrell does double duty as both cook and narrator with clever performances by Trungta Kae Kositchaimongkol as the Garlic, Crystal Nezgoda as a beautiful Carrot, and Lauren Arrow as the Onion. The blocking and movement of the actors was done with a great deal of wonderful pantomime.

The final production of the evening was Wallis and Finnie in Cloud Cuckooland, written by Gaetana Caldwell-Smith and directed by Eileen Tull. In this play, an upper class couple played by Steve North and Annette Oliveira lose their domestic help. These two talented actors play off each other very well in their desperate plight.

A memorable outcome of the Fringe of Marin is to discover fresh voices, and to bring in the community to participate either as an actor or as a spectator.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

May 2012

Red, a Challenging Artist’s Dilemma>

In Berkeley Rep’s recent opening of John Logan’s Broadway success Red, directed by Les Waters, we are invited to probe into the minds of two artists, the celebrated older painter (Mark Rothko played by David Chandler) and his younger apprentice (Ben played by John Brummer). The exchange of ideas representing the older and younger generation a propos the role of today’s artist is an immediate intellectual challenge. Mark Rothko is a Jew who immigrated from Russia and hires Ken to assist him to paint red mural paintings for the popular Four Seasons New York restaurant. Mark explains to his quiet obedient assistant his theories on art, how society superficially appreciates art today, the value of some current painters, and his own abstract expressionist works that he resists describing to the latter because “Silence is so accurate.”

While the piece does not offer that much emotional or dramatic content until it nears the final scenes, it does challenge the spectator in a remarkably perceptive and profound manner to think about the mental and emotional turmoil the artist painter undergoes during the creative process, and his illusions and delusions about his art work. The audience is also invited into sharing the artist’s inner feelings regarding the public reaction to his creation. Otherwise the major dramatic conflict surfaces in the final scenes to show the older and younger artists’ differences of aesthetic approach. Again the resolution of this conflict is more intriguing intellectually than emotionally or dramatically.

The challenge of dramatizing content immersed in aesthetic discussion is well met by playwright John Logan. The double challenge of engaging actors to succeed in interpreting and performing intellectual content is mastered by Chandler and Brummer as actors and Les Waters as director.

Red performs through April 29th. For information call 510-647-2949 or click on Berkeley Rep .org. Dr. Annette Lust

THE 36th ANNUAL AWARDS GALA HOSTED BY MARGA GOMEZ

Nominations for 2011 theatre achievement have been announced in 82 categories. Awards will be presented at a ceremony hosted by MARGA GOMEZ featuring presenters from all around the Bay Area theatre community, plus selected performances from nominated musicals.

Monday, April 2, 2012. Reception 7 p.m. Ceremony 8 p.m. Palace of Fine Arts, Free Parking. Tickets: $25 in advance $30 at the door. (800) 838-3006 or click www.sfbatcc

29th Bay Area Fringe of Marin One Acts Festival

For its 29th season, new short Bay Area one-acts will be performed to vie for a Best Play $100 Award and Actors and Directors certificates. The festival will take place in Meadowlands Hall at Dominican University of California, San Rafael April 13th to April 29th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., plus an extra 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday April 21st. It features premieres of new short one-acts and monologues ranging from light and dark comedy and drama to dance, song and fantasy pantry tales. This season there will also be a program for young audiences as well as one for more mature audiences.

Admission $15 to $20: seniors and students $10; children under 12, $5. For reservations and information call (415) 673-3131 or email Jeanlust@aol.com

A Trainload of Laughs on the Twentieth Century at RVP

As one enters the theatre at Ross Valley Players, a large-scale model of the 20th Century Limited and a diorama created by Images of the Past Railroad Modeling Company are on display, with authentic 30’s recordings by Director Billie Cox.

One may compare this production of this Twentieth Century by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, based on a play by Charles Bruce Millholland in a new adaptation by Ken Ludwig, with a production of the musical On the Twentieth Century, with book and lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden and music by Cy Coleman, that was staged at Novato Theater Co. last October. The story was basically the same but with gender changes and a different ending.

The Ross Valley Players’ Twentieth Century is as fast-paced as the repartee of the famous luxury train itself. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation is reminiscent of the 1934 movie starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard in which the characters plot to rescue a director’s failing theater career. 

Directed by Billie Cox and produced by Karen Laffey, Twentieth Century is based on a legendary, eccentric, Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe (Dale Camden), who must convince his former leading lady Lili Garland (Jennifer Reimer), once a chorus girl and now a Hollywood starlet, to return to Broadway for his upcoming show. 

The play takes place aboard the luxurious 20th Century Limited from Chicago to New York City in 1938. The fabulous set is by Ken Rowland, with beautiful costumes for Lili Garland by Michael A. Berg.

Under Billie Cox’s imaginative direction, the entire cast has a spirit of camaraderie as well as excellent playing energy and comic timing. 

Twentieth Century plays from March 23-April 22 at Ross Valley Players. For info call 415-456-9555, extension 1 or click on www.rossvalleyplayers.com. Up next at Ross Valley Players is The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams, directed by Chris Cassell, May 18-June 17, 2012. Flora Lynn Isaacson

April 2012

 

Farcing Up Molière’s Doctor in Spite of Himself at Berkeley Rep

A Doctor in Spite of Himself, by the 17th century French playwright, a lighter, less psychological oeuvre than Molière’s Imaginary Invalid about Alceste, who attempts to force his daughter to marry a doctor to cure his own imaginary ailments, adapted by Stephen Epp and Christopher Bayes, co -produced with Yale Repertory Theatre.

Molière’s farce about a woodcutter named Sganarelle (Steven Epp), who prefers the bottle over wood cutting and who is a despotic husband to Martine (Justine Williams)—she soon gets her revenge on her husband, when two servants (Liam Craig and Jacob Ming-Trent) of the wealthy lord Géronte (Allen Gilmore) looking for someone to cure their master’s daughter Lucinde (Renata Friedman), who has become mute since her father has decided to marry her to a rich suitor while she prefers the penniless Léandre (Chivas Michael). Martine informs them that she knows of an extraordinary doctor who will not admit that he is one unless you beat him. The two servants find Sganarelle and beat him until he admits he is an ingenious doctor. From then on the farcical action is fired up with Sganarelle ending up in wealthy seigneur Géronte’s home pretending he is a doctor, flirting with the pretty married wet nurse (Julie Briskman), and plotting with Lucinde to cleverly match her up with her beloved Léandre

Expertly directed by Christopher Bayes in a highly visual updated commedia dell’ arte physical style, is a satire based on the quackery of the doctors of Molière’s time and beyond that can stand on its own as a light classic comedy both content and form-wise. This production is also enriched by delightful miniature puppets (manipulated by Renata Friedman) who momentarily step in to replace the live characters. It also includes pop music and songs performed by Greg C. Powers and Robertson Witmer and directed by composer/music director Aaron Halva.

Yet this production goes beyond commedia dell’ arte to transform the action into hilarious physical and verbal improvisations that delight in boldly jeering contemporary happenings and personalities such as our present Republican candidates. In so doing the play ends up being less of a Molière farce than a clown show utilizing slapstick, vaudeville, and verbal banter that includes scatological references.

Yet, laughing for the sake of laughing no matter how it is derived, may be a saving factor in this production. Just what the doctor ordered for physical and mental health. In the ending scene the cast sobers up to offer this wise message that also comes across like a humble apology for their playful hamming up of Molière’s farce. In a gracious and happy manner they extol the importance of laughter and then send us off in good cheer and humored by their upbeat buffoonery.

A Doctor through March 25th. Info 510-647-2949, or berkeleyrep.org or 888-4-BRT-TIX

Aurora’s Body AwarenesS A Comedy of Colorful Eccentrics

Annie Baker’s Bay Area premiere of Body Awareness, referring to lectures by an energetic feminist college teacher (Amy Resnick) during Body Awareness Week, has less to do with her academic lectures than her relationship with her partner, the Mom (Jeri Lynn Cohen) of a repugnant 21 year old (Patrick Russell), who constantly and defiantly denies he has Asperger’s syndrome. When a strange visiting artist and traveling photographer (Howard Swain) is invited to stay in their home and offers to take nude photos of the lesbian Mom, the college teacher is disturbed by her partner’s willingness to allow a male to view and photograph her nude body. Meanwhile son Jared has been enticed into opening up to Fred the photographer, who suggests Jared stop continually twirling around an electric toothbrush and find a girlfriend. But Jared’s first attempt to approach a girl has him showing his body parts to her and ending up falling into a pond.

Baker’s play, sharply directed by Joy Carlin, has the audience enjoying the spontaneity of these eccentric characters and the comic situation and repartee. With rapid set changes, the actors move from the Body Awareness lectures that seem superfluous in that they do not connect much with the dramatic action, to the lesbian couple’s intimate home where the comic events take precedence over the upheaval that Fred’s presence. If there is a lesson to be learned, or any enlightenment over lesbian relationships or bringing up a recalcitrant 21 year old, it is buried under the sparkling humor Baker employs to portray the eccentricities of the characters.

Sets and lighting by Kent Dorsey and costumes by Christine Dougherty and sound by composer Chris Houston.

Annie Baker brings an original voice to new playwrights exploring today’s issues, that the Aurora initiated in its Global Age Project of life in the 21st century.

Body Awareness through March 4th, Info 510-843-4822: auroratheatre.org for future Aurora productions. Annette Lust

March 2012

Bringing the Body To the Stage and Screen By Dr. Annette Lust

Dr. Annette Lust

Annette Lust of San Francisco—theater critic, educator, longtime student and chronicler of mime and the founder of the Fringe of Marin One-Act Play & Solo Performance Festival at Marin’s Dominican University—has authored and edited a dense, fascinating and useful book on the “key element in performance.”

Bringing the Body to the Stage and Screen by Dr. Annette Lust

This new book by the author of From the Greek Mimes to Marcel Marceau and Beyond (Scarecrow, 2002) is a trove of information and examples—including exercises, improvisation techniques, original pantomimes, nonverbal acting, mime and physical theater methods, as well as chapters and an appendix on teaching movement and creating a movement education program, plus appendices on resources (schools, festivals, publications, DVDs ...).

In addition, nearly a quarter of the body of the text consists of conversations, interviews with and essays by a wide range of artists, scholars and critics in the field, many associated with theater in the Bay Area—famed clowns and actors Bill Irwin and Geoff Hoyle, Joan Schirle of Dell’ Arte International, dancer-choreographer Joe Goode, puppeteer Liebe Wetzel (who originated Lunatique Fantastique), Clown Conservatory founder Jeff Raz, playwright-director Mark Jackson—and this writer’s short piece on film acting. Other international artists, such as Bernie Schurch (who also provided a foreword) and Floriana Frassetto of Mummenschanz, and filmmaker-theater performer Katerina Epperlein are also represented.

Dr. Lust provides a wealth of examples, references and quotes to expand the spectrum of her argument that “movement is fundamental to the life of all theater, whether it is movement theater or theater movement.” Moreover, she maintains that “the spoken word was born from movement rather than the contrary.” 

Dr. Lust refers to both ancient theater and ritual—”From the ancient ceremonies emerged the actor who was also a dancer, singer and mime”—also citing the modern performance visionaries who worked to restore and update this primal situation: “The twentieth-century French actor, poet, and drama theoretician Antonin Artaud criticized Occidental theatre for being a branch of literature engaged primarily in performing plays with emphasis placed on the playwright’s text.” (Artaud’s ecstatic proclamation, “To know the parts of the body for dramatic expression is to throw the spectator into magic trances” serves as epigraph to the book.)

 For those familiar with her history of mime, the present book will provide moments of recognition, in which Dr. Lust doesn’t just reprise what she’s written before of the history of the physicality of theater, but casts new light on its essential role, giving a new perspective on the phenomenology of movement in performance from the standpoint of practical education and production concerns. 

Her collaborators also give more than tips and pointers: Karina Epperlein notes “moving my body puts me easily into an ecstatic state ... movement is like a river, moving with gravity ... flows, nourishes, connects, and tells stories”; Mark Jackson refers to the human body as theater’s “raison d’etre”; performer, coach and author Dan Kamin valorizes Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush as seeming to be “thought incarnate, expressing his every thought with his entire body.” Dr. Lust herself concludes with: “as the movement of the body liberates creativity and gives birth to expressivity, the gestures of the body evolve in silence or between words or musical notes ... so are born the lyricism of the body and the poetry of movement.”

The breadth and depth of the material can be indicated by a few headings: under “Utilizing Movements to Create a Visual Image,” there are sections on “Imaginary Object and Color Exercises” and “Evoking Movement Through Sound and Sound Through Movement;” examples of “Physicalizing the Word” come from the founder of modern “corporeal” mime Etienne Decroux’s “Mimo-Verb Class,” his original partner (and star of Children of Paradise) Jean-Louis Barrault’s “Use of Metaphoric Physical Imagery in Speaking Theatre”—and San Francisco’s “Word For Word Company’s Use of Movement to Dramatize Novels and Short Stories.” 

There are charts with simple drawings to illustrate exercises and a gallery of practitioners of the art, past and present.

Bringing the Body to the Stage and Screen constitutes a generous contribution to the teaching, production and appreciation of the performing arts, both in live performance and those captured on tape and film.

To sum up the intention of this book in all the diversity of its forms, yet with the concentration of spirit in this uniquely human endeavor, Dr. Lust quotes the words of lyric poet Theodore Roethke: “God bless the roots! Body and soul are one.”

Ken Bullock, S.F. Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Bringing the Body to the Stage and Screen, Expressive Movement for Performers, just out from Scarecrow Press ($49.95 paper/$99 cloth).

March 2012

 

Ghost Light: The Search for a Father

Tony Taccone’s Ghost Light, co-produced with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where it was first performed and directed by Jonathan Moscone, is currently playing on the Thrust Stage of the Berkeley Rep Theatre. In the play we first meet Moscone’s young son (Tyler James Myers) hearing the news of the assassination of his father, Mayor George Moscone, and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978 by former supervisor Dan White, whom Moscone refused to reappoint as supervisor. We attend Moscone’s wake, among other introductory scenes that leave the spectator grappling for their meaning. Later, in a poignant scene, Jonathan is a young drama teacher (Christopher Liam Moore) directing a ghost scene between Hamlet and his father, who asks his son to revenge his foul death. Until we reach such scenes of the son’s dramatic struggle with directing in the first half of the piece, the dramatic action wanders.

The second half of the play offers more intimate two-character scenes about Jon’s constant quest to see his father that move the action forward psychologically and dramatically. In one such scene the stage director son confides in his confidante (Robynn Rodriguez) about his despair over his parental loss.

This last half is lightened by Taccone’s sharp humor: such songs as “I left my heart in San Francisco,” and the final scene in which Moscone ghost dances with his son.

To gain dramatic intensity, this fictionalized version of a historical incident needs to be trimmed in the first half in which overwritten scenes cripple the dramatic thread.

Although Christopher Liam Moore may at first not appear to be physically suited to the role of Jonathan Moscone, his excellent emotional and technical interpretation soon win over his audience. The remaining cast members offer polished creations of their characterizations.

Ghost Light is a fine tribute to the memory of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk that is especially endearing to Bay Area audiences, brought to us through Tony Taccone’s writing, Jonathon Moscone’s direction, and the cast’s creative interpretations.

Ghost Light plays through Feb. 19th. For information call (510) 647-2949 or click on BerkeleyRep.org. Annette Lust

Word for Word’s Food Stories Brought to Life at Zee Space

With still more physicality, dance, mime, and even a bit of clowning to animate their stories, this season Word for Word presents the scintillating food stories Sorry Fugu by T.C. Boyle and Enough by Alice McDermott, adapted and directed by John Fisher at the San Francisco Zee Space

Sorry Fugu is staged as a farce that takes place in L.A in the 1980s and centers around chef Albert D’Angelo (Soren Oliver), the owner of a small restaurant who feels chastised by a female food critic who gives his cuisine a thumbs down in two reviews. He fears a third bad review that will ruin his restaurateur reputation. When Albert sees a photo of the critic (Molly Benson) he falls in love with her and concocts a plan to entice her into adoring his food. When she arrives, he forces the critic into his kitchen where he lovingly feeds her spoon full after spoon full of special dishes, a food tasting experience to which she gradually succumbs. The dramatic action ends in a lively dance with everyone cheering Albert’s victory as a local chef.

Alice McDermott’s Enough depicts the young daughter of a 1930s family licking the ice cream on the Sunday dinner plates she removes from the table. In a following scene she sits on the couch center stage cuddling up to boys her age when her parents or sisters and brothers are not around. The couch continues throughout the play to depict pleasures, from the young girl (Delia MacDougall) to the older woman (Patricia Silver).

McDermott’s play reveals the gourmand and sensual cravings in each of us, who never get enough of these delights.

The actors in Word for Word succeed in faithfully interpreting the author’s text as they enliven it physically and emotionally. The spectator becomes engaged in the dramatic action without being aware of the actors’ recitation of the literary text. Objects and props are also personified through the physical movements of the actors.

Word for Word offers a highly animated physicalization of two stories that are transformed into mesmerizing dramatic stage material.

Food Stories runs through Feb. 3rd. For info about Food Stories or forthcoming Word for Word productions visit www.brownpapertickets.com or call 800-08383-3006 or visit www.zspace.org. Annette Lust

Attention Theatre Goers. Look for Annette Lust’s Bringing the Body to the Stage and Screen just published by Scarecrow Press. See a description of the book and production photos on line www.AnnetteLust.com

She Stoops to Conquer—An 18th Century Comedy of Manners at RVP

Written by Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer was first performed in London in 1773 and is one of the few plays from the 18th century still regularly performed.

In the play, set in an English village in 1765, Mr. Hardcastle (Alex Ross) wants his daughter, Kate (Jocelyn Roddie) to meet and marry the wealthy Charles Marlow (Sean Mirkovich), but Marlow gets nervous around upper-class women so Kate needs to pretend to be “common” and “stoops to conquer” by pretending to be a barmaid.

British-born Director Judy Holmes breaks the fourth wall and makes the most of the asides the characters have with the audience.

Alex Ross as Mr. Hardcastle gives a great performance and is the glue holding the play together. Jocelyn Roddie as Kate has a wonderful sense of timing and is excellent in her alter-ego, the bar-maid. Sean Mirkovich as Marlow is able to switch confidently from stammering shyness of women of his social class to lascivious lothario with the barmaid. Maureen O’Donoghue is delightful as the fashion seeker who easily succumbs to flattery. Kushi Beauchamp as Constance and Adam Roy as Hastings make a sincere eloping couple. As Tony Lumpkin, Josh Garcia-Cotter has captured the oafishness of his character.

Set Designer Ken Rowland has created the perfect English country manor and Michael A. Berg’s costumes are authentic and elegant.

She Stoops to Conquer is a wonderful play and excellently directed by Judy Holmes in the perfect style of an 18th century Comedy of Manners. She Stoops to Conquer plays through February 19, 2012. For reservations, call 415-456-9555, extension 1 or go to: www.rossvalleyplayers.com

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be 20th Century by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, adapted by Ken Ludwig and directed by Billie Cox from March 23-April 22, 2012. Flora Lynn Isaacson

February 2012

Mystery, Murder and Mischief in Fall 2011 Fringe of Marin, Program One

Thanks to the inspiration and leadership of Dr. Annette Lust, the Fringe of Marin Festival is now in its 28th season.

The opening play of Program One, Who Is Who, was an exhilarating mystery comedy written and directed by Bill Chessman about wealthy British people pretending to be someone else. Outstanding performances were given by Jim Colgan as a perfect butler and C. Conrad Cady as Inspector Nigel Cork from Scotland Yard. The theme of this play is that things are seldom what they seem.

Louisville by Joe Amata, directed by Crystal Nezgoda, starred C. Conrad Cady as Ralph and Rick Roitinger as Louis. The suspense builds in a dramatic encounter between two men as a burglar is set up to be a killer and is discovered by a "supposed" homeowner.

Michael Belitsos, a retired advertising executive turned magician, presented Why We Travel: A Magical Mystery Tour. His definition of travel includes both discovery and revelation. Mr. Belitsos contrasts the attitude of travelers with the attitude of tourists. In his trip to the Amazon jungle, teaming with exotic wildlife and splendor, and being a magician, he makes magic before our very eyes.

In Joseph O'Loughlin's The Psychic, directed by Keshuv Prasad, the psychic played by Rick Roitinger is a TV personality who seeks counseling from a priest played by Jeffrey Orth. The play builds into an unexpected climax of tragedy, horror and controversy.

In the second half of the program, Stay with Me, by Justine Kaltenbach with music by Sanna Salmenkalio and directed by Tracy Ward, a "possible" gay young man, Ernst (sensitively played by Tyler Costin) seeks suicide counseling from Lucious, understandingly played by Lonnie Haley. Both actors give fine performances but need more projection.

It Don't Have to Hurt, a solo performance written and directed by Susan Little, is performed by Diane Rodrigues as Iris, with excellent comic timing.

The grand finale of the evening was Can One Make Love Wrapped Up in the French Flag? James Colgan directs this sexy French farce written by Benoit Vitse, a Romanian living in Paris. This charming play involves an amorous couple, delightfully played by C. Conrad Cady and Crystal Nezgoda, who wonder if they will be punished by French law for wrapping themselves in the "drapeau tricolore."

A memorable outcome of the Fringe of Marin is to discover fresh voices and to bring in the community to participate either as artist or spectator. Flora Lynn Isaacson

From Theatre of the Absurd to the Meaning of Life in Fall 2011 Fringe of Marin, Program Two

In Program Two, Waiting to Go (a take off on Waiting for Godot) is written and directed by taxi driver Michael Ferguson, who wrote it from conversations he's heard in his cab. This play stars known Bay Area actress Maureen Coyne and Al Badger, a festival favorite, as a middle-aged couple waiting for a cab to sort out a family mess and confront siblings about their mother's need to sell her home because money is gone. Both the dialog and situation are extremely clever.

Next up was a monologue by perennial festival award winner Steve North titled, A (Tail) Tale of Two Dogs. Steve North is a master of the monologue, and this one is truly theatre of the absurd, pointing out the foibles of the human condition proving that pets are more important than people.

In Suzanne Birrell's delightful comedy, Saturday in the Park with Vic, we meet two old friends: Sally, played by Maureen Coyne with a great sense of comic timing, and Norma (Lynn Kirschner), her hilariously wacky shadow and partner in crime. While bird watching in the park, they hear Vic (Tyler Hewitt) speaking on his cell phone about a plot to shoot the mayor and all hell breaks loose. Suzanne Birrell is a perfectionist as both a playwright and director

Love Birds is a charming romance written by Rod McFadden and expertly directed by Carol Eggers. George (Rick Roitinger) and Marcia (Claudia Rosa) meet on a park bench. George feeds the pigeons and Marcia is reading a Jane Austen novel. Both Rick Roitinger and Claudia Rosa are a dynamic duo as their romance develops. It is a clever idea to have the lights go on and off to signify time passing over three weeks as two lonely people find each other reading and feeding.

Next, The Perfect Step, written and directed by Melinda E. Lopez, David Moltzen and G. Randy Kasten, with a musical contribution by David (Dr.Dave) Rogers, offered a musical play about a woman who is ambitious, a writer who wants to be an editor and to be free to travel all over and ends up agreeing to settle down with her man and take the perfect step. Judi Rich is Sophia, the ambitious woman; Gifford Teeple is her man, Rick; Paula Suyehiro plays Tiffany, a very seductive, sexy woman who is Garrett's girlfriend; and David Moltzen is Garrett, a taxi dispatcher.

Kenneth Nugent's strong drama, The Finger, is directed by Tim Giugni to a startling climax. Marcia Bonham (Claudia Rosa) doesn't want surgery on her son's finger because that would make him fit for the Marines to go to war and get killed. Dr. Ingels (Rick Roitinger) wants to perform the operation to save her son. They have a clash of wills, leading to a tragic conclusion. Both Roitinger and Rosa give strong performances.

The final play, well worth waiting for, is George Dykstra's No Kidding, The Meaning of Life! Mr. Dykstra directs his masterpiece with a superb performance by Burl Lampert as The Guru and a fine performance by Keshuv Prasad as The Seeker. This play contains very clever dialog and one liners which are both philosophical and entertaining, building to an excellent ending.

This season's Fringe of Marin offered plays that were well written and performed, a play by a noted European playwright, works by talented Bay Area playwrights, and a brand new stage for the performers, as well as excellent audience attendance and discussions. Jean Bercut

For information about participating in or attending the upcoming Spring Fringe of Marin, visit www.fringeofmarin.com, or contact Annette Lust at JeanLust @aol.

Ross Valley Players' Heartfelt Mockingbird

The powerful and yet sensitive stage version of the great American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, opened Friday, November 11, 2011 at Ross Valley Players. This is an outstanding production, from the marvelous casting, to the brilliant staging by James Dunn, the wonderful set, and the time-perfect costumes.

Veteran Actress and Director Mary Ann Rodgers plays Jean Louise Finch (or Scout) who is the narrator of the story, and we witness all of the events through her eyes. She is onstage all the time, either speaking to the audience, listening or observing. She looks back on her life as Scout during the summer of 1935 in Maycomb, Alabama.

Katrina Horsey's young Scout was both focused and chipper. Scout Finch lives with her brother Jem (sensitively portrayed by Gerrit deBlaauw), and their widowed father Atticus (portrayed by Steve Price in an amazing performance). Atticus is a prominent lawyer and the Finch family is reasonably well off as compared to the rest of society. One summer, Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill (played by Layne Ulrich in an excellent performance).

Atticus is a lawyer who has been assigned by Judge Taylor (played with appropriate authority by Alex Ross) to defend a young black man, Tom Robinson (in a moving performance by Wendell H. Wilson), who has been accused of beating and raping a white woman (an hysterical Melissa Bailey). This is the pre-integration South, a time when black people had few rights. In Tom's trial, for instance, the Sheriff, Heck Tate (played by Ray Martin) constantly calls Tom "boy" even though he's a married man with three children and a steady job. Atticus, on the other hand, treats Tom with respect. In his impassioned final speech to the jury, Atticus stresses that an unbiased court system is the very foundation of American society, and that every person is entitled to a fair trial. Outstanding performances are given by Frederick Lein as the scurrilous Bob Ewell, father of the girl who accuses Tom; Anne Ripley as Mrs. Dubose, the crabby neighbor; Wood Lockhart as the prosecuting attorney Mr. Gilmer; Sumi Narendran, who plays the Finch's housekeeper Calpurnia with care and apprehension; and Jeffrey Taylor as Boo Radley, a mysterious neighbor.

Director James Dunn has put together an excellent show. The first act is mostly exposition and introduction of characters. The performance moves quickly leading up to the famous court room scene in the second act. In Mr. Dunn's capable hands, the play, at all times, lives up to its potential with good pacing and tense delivery.

Mockingbird at Ross Valley Players through Dec 11. Reservations, 456-9555 or www.rossvalleyplayers.com Flora Lynn Isaacson

December 2011

 

Honey Brown Eyes

Stephanie Zadravec's Honey Brown Eyes introduces the SF Playhouse's 2011-2012 season. Content and performance-wise, the play is a powerful portrayal of the ethnic conflicts between natives of Bosnia and Serbia in the 1991 war-torn Yugoslavia. Two former band mates, a Serbian paramilitary soldier and a Bosnian resistance fighter, undergoing the consequences that war brings them, meet women that will influence their actions. The play that describes the horrors of genocide, female abuse and human massacres and burnings, rises above the horrors of this ambience to reveal the power of human kindness and artistic brotherhood.

When Serbian soldier Dragan (Nic Grelli) realizes that Alma (Jennifer Stuckert) was the woman he admired and loved when he was a band player, instead of persecuting her he find ways to aid her and her daughter. In another moving and comical scene, Denis (Chad Deverman), a Bosnian fighter, hides in elderly Serb Jovanka's (Wanda McCaddon) house, and despite their ethnic differences, protects her. And so, while other ethnic groups are slaying one another, these characters place human values above all others.

Expertly directed by Susi Damilano, the sets of two kitchens by Bill English are superbly realistic. Costumes (Miyuki Bierlein) and props (Jacqueline Scott) enhance the ethnic ambience. Lights (Kurt Landisman) and sound (Brendan Aanes) empower the dramatization. This riveting drama that grabs hold of spectators who are mostly familiar with televised or printed news about Eastern European conflicts is a veritable revelation, as well as a moving testimony of how the heart can place human values above the urge to kill for one's country.

Honey Brown Eyes plays until November 5th. For information about this play or upcoming productions at the Playhouse call 415-677-9596 or visit www.SFPlayhouse.com -- Dr. Annette Lust

How To Write a New Book For the Bible

Bill Cain's family comedy/drama premiere that instantly involves every viewer opens with the line that the first rule of writing is to write what you know. And so we are invited into an intimate narration of Bill Cain's memories of his mother's sickness and his devoted care to help her through her final days. What follows is a heart-wrenching account of Billy's day by day care for his dying mother. This authentic account began after Bill Cain's mother's death, first written as a book in which it was not seen as a loss but rather as a celebration. It was only later that Cain adapted it as a play.

The dramatic action begins as a partially acted-out narrated autobiography of Billy's family life. We learn about the death of his father and Billy's moving in with his mother to care for her. Although this storytelling device is drawn out and jumps from one narrative detail to another, what lightens this are the comical scenes of, for example, Billy's Mom hiding her cigarette lighter in the bathroom where she smokes against Billy's rules and lies to Billy about doing so. In the second half the narrative transforms into dialogue. The play gains emotional power as Billy faces his mother's weakening condition and her growing need for his aid. This true to life portrayal of Billy's dying mother grows so moving the audience is silenced and attentive to every detail of Billy's mother's last moments. This sensitive dramatization of the approaching loss of a mother is an experience that each viewer can relate to in some manner.

Well-directed by Kent Nicholson, the play gains in emotional depth when the narrative style is lessened and the actors interact. The performance of Mary as an aging sick woman by Linda Gehringer gives the dramatic interest its raison d'être and viability.

Through his vibrant stage presence, Tyler Pierce holds the audience's attention as a narrator/actor throughout. Leo Marks as Pete and Aaron Blakely as Paul provide good characterizations of father and brother.

Scott Bradley's minimal set on a bare stage empowers the dramatic action.

Bill Cain's touching dramatization of his devotion to his dying mother in accessible language veritably proves that the Bible is not an academic rule book but rather a story of family life told simply.

The play runs through November 20th on the Berkeley Rep Thrust Stage. For information call 510-647-2949 or berkeleyrep.org --Dr. Annette Lust

Master Harold and the Boys

Off Broadway West Theatre Company has just opened their 5th season with a superb production of Master Harold and the Boys, a one act play that takes place in St. George's Park Tea Room on a windy Port Elizabeth (South Africa) afternoon in 1950.

This Off Broadway West production deserves high praise for both its fine acting and brilliant direction by Richard Harder. The audience gave the play a well-deserved standing ovation. Bert van Aalsburg's set of St. George's Park Tea Room is also amazing.

The trio of actors is wonderful! Each is perfect for his part. LaMont Ridgell plays a dignified, wise and understanding Sam. Anthony Rollins-Mullens plays a boyish and naive Willie, and Adam Simpson's Master Harold is intellectually curious but not challenged by his classes. His lack of enthusiasm for his monotonous school routine contrasts with the enthusiasm he takes in teaching and debating with his servant Sam. When faced with the return of his tyrannical father, Harold directs his anger and pain toward his servants, transforming their relationship for the first time from childhood friends and companions into subservient help. Director Richard Harder makes each moment come alive. Master Harold and the Boys is a tribute to the director and his talented cast. Run, don't walk to see this fine production!

Master Harold and the Boys plays at Off Broadway West Theatre Company through November 19, 2011. Performances are held at the Phoenix Theatre, Suite 601, 414 Mason Street (between Geary and Post), San Francisco. For tickets, go to www.offbroadwaywest.org or call 800-838-3006. --Flora Lynn Isaacson

28th Fringe of Marin Festival

For its 28th season this fall, the Fringe of Marin will produce a translation of noted Paris playwright Benoit Vitse's world premiere of Can One Make Love Wrapped Up in the French Flag? in which a couple mock French chauvinistic patriotism. The play is directed by James Colgan, Bay Area director of The Story of O , that won first place in the 2010 Fringe of Marin and was then selected out of 1200 plays to perform in the New York Off Off Samuel French One Acts. Among other Bay Area plays that will be showcased are Marin film director George Dykstra's No Kidding, the Meaning of Life, A Magical Mystery Tour by magician Michael Belitsos, a musical (The Perfect Step).

The Festival kicks off November 4th weekend through November 20th.

For information and reservations (415) 673-3131 or Jeanlust@aol.com or www.FringeofMarin.com.

November 2011

 

Award winning: Afield

San Francisco's 20th Fringe Festival presented Afield, a World Premiere that won the 2011 Best of Fringe. Also, Best of Fringe 2010 winner, Linda Ayres-Frederick's Afield features an all star cast: Carolyn Doyle as Miriam, Bruno Kanter as Samuel, and Heidi Wolff as Pig, directed by Joe Weatherby (also "Best of Fringe").

With Miriam's arrival in a desolate field of land mines, farmhand Samuel becomes hungry enough to barbecue the Pig who could save his life. At issue here is who will survive their battle and the flood that comes to end their world.

The mood of this play is tense as Miriam, Samuel and Pig vie for survival in a no-man's land ravaged by floods and war. This absurdist tragicomedy calls to mind plays by Samuel Beckett.

All three actors are outstanding in their roles. Nervous and fretful, Miriam returns to her home, a wasteland littered with land mines. She encounters Samuel, a simple minded farm hand tending a small patch of land. He is resigned to the precarious nature of their survival. They might be the last humans on earth, but are not the only creatures. Into their lives stumbles Pig, a wild boar who could prove to be a valuable ally or a great meal. Pig is cleverly costumed by Wes Crain. This play asks what it means to be human and to find hope in a world overrun with cataclysm and despair. Brilliantly directed by Joe Weatherby, we find a strong bonding between Miriam and Pig. Samuel appears most of the time to be a villain. Linda Ayres-Frederick is a talented playwright as well as a fine actress, producer, director and critic.

Afield will be replayed on Oct. 1th at 7 p.m. at the Exit, 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco. For tickets and info call 415-673-3847 or visit www. SF Fringe.org.

For future info contact www.PhoenixTheatreSF.org. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Rita Moreno's Life Without Makeup

Stage and screen star Rita Moreno, who for six decades has played such roles as Anita in Westside Story and Maria Callas in Master Class, is presently telling her own story in Life Without Makeup. Moreno's solo, that covers her early immigration to America through six decades, is written by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone and directed by David Galligan with choreography by Lee Martino.

Moreno, looking fresher and more youthful than her age, relates how she and her mother left Puerto Rico when she was five to sail away on a Puerto Rican boat called "Stupid Face." Her mother who upon seeing the Statue of Liberty says, "And so this is the lady who runs this country!"

Moreno describes their early days in New York living in a single room on the fifth floor where Moreno spent hours sitting on the fire escape dreaming of becoming someone important. She began by redubbing film dialogue into Spanish and playing bit parts in which she utilized her dance and singing talents. After waiting day by day for the phone to ring for a film role, it was not until 1961 when she performed Anita in the film version of West Side Story that her career skyrocketed and she won the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.

In the second half of her solo, Moreno describes her encounters with film notables as Clark Gable and Darryl Zanuck, as well as Marlon Brando with whom she fell madly in love. Added to Moreno's personal and moving account are clips of her performances in former movies, and her dance and song sequences with young dynamic dancers Ray Garcia and Salvatore Vassalo that she handles well despite her advanced age.

Content wise, Tony Taccone's script is personal and gripping. Performance wise Moreno meets this challenge in this two hour show that could still be trimmed and the pace quickened throughout.

In her final message she repeats her mother's wise adage "Keep moving" and adds "the body knows what the brain ignores" and "no spirit is ever diminished by a passion for life!"

Life Without Makeup plays through October 30th. For information call 510-647-2949 or 888 4-BRT-TIX. Dr. Annette Lust

Edward Albee's Delicate Balance

Edward Albee's forty-five year old Pulitzer Prize award winning Delicate Balance comes to life on Aurora Theatre's opening night with the presence of Albee, who lauded director Tom Ross and the actors for their polished performance.

With a cast of solid Bay Area actors, artistic director Tom Ross' production conveys the playwright's absurdist depiction of a bourgeois family co-habiting with family members and neighbors and tolerating one another's habits of alcoholism and illusions. Model wife Agnes (Kimberly King), wife of a sedentary Tobias (Ken Grantham), whose main occupation is to drink cocktails, keeps a delicate balance in this ambiance in which she feels estranged from her uncommunicative husband and her alcoholic sister Claire (Jamie Jones). At one point, in walks their friends Harry (Charles Dean) and Edna (Anne Darragh),who ask for a room to sleep because they are frightened. They move into Julia's room, (Carrie Paff), she has just left her fourth husband, rants about having her room occupied by the couple, who decide to stay on longer.Tobias can't send away his best friends.

On a deeper level, this absurdist situation brings about Albee’s examination of moral and philosophical conflicts about how we should respect others’ needs and yet protect ourselves from being abused. There are also the themes of alienation, the middle age fright of being abandoned, and the illusionary thinking that alcoholism provides to deny reality. The playwright also poses questions about how true we are to ourselves in marriage and in our social relationships without sparing us the mental or emotional blows of this realization.
What weakens the highly vibrant staging and top performances of the play is the length, and wordy text that otherwise offers comically absurd scenes and perceptive philosophical and psychological truths.
Kudos to Richard Olmstead for a simple workable set, to Callie Floor for appropriate costuming, to Kurt Landisman for lighting and Chris Houston for sound.
A Delicate Balance plays until October 9th, 2011. For information for this play, or Stravinsky’s and Ramuz’ Soldier’s Tale in November, call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org. Dr. Annette Lust

Don't Dress for Dinner

Ross Valley Players just opened its 82nd season with a French farce, Don't Dress for Dinner by Marc Camoletti and adapted by Robin Hawdon.

The action takes place inside a lovely renovated barn, beautifully designed by Jay Lasnik, which is owned by a fabulously snobbish, big city married couple. When the play opens, Bernard pulls the ear of an antler by the center door and a whole bar opens up downstage right to the tune of the French national anthem. Bernard, played by David Kester, is eagerly looking forward to his weekend liaison with his mistress Suzanne, played with a sexy French accent by Marianne Shine. He figures that he's hatched the perfect plan when he invites his friend Robert, played by Tavis Kammet, to complete his alibi. Much to Bernard's dismay, his wife Jacqueline, played by Sondra Putnam, who was going away to visit her mother for the weekend, decides to stay home because she has a plan of her own when she discovers that Robert will be there. Mix in a cook named Suzette played by Melissa Claire, and add one jealous husband played by Casey Bair, and you end up with a delicious comedy of false identities and misunderstandings.

The pace of this play is frenetic and fun. The skillful hand of experienced Director Richard Ryan is evident in the clever ways he bounces the characters off each other, and around Jay Lasnik's beautiful set. All of the actors do an admirable job of keeping tabs on all the convolutions of the plot. Don't Dress for Dinner is a play with broad audience appeal and a lot of laughs.

Don't Dress for Dinner plays September 16-October 16 at Ross Valley Players Barn Theatre. For reservations, call 415-456-9555 or go online at rossvalleyplayers.com for more information.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be To Kill a Mockingbird\, Harper Lee's enduring story translated to the stage by Christopher Sergel and directed by James Dunn, November 11-December 11, 2011. Flora Lynn Isaacson

October 2011

 

American Buffalo

David Mamet's American Buffalo Francisco Actor's Theatre salon tragi-comedy, considered one of Mamet's best written plays, revolves around three petty crooks' attempt to rob a client's coin collection. Will their friendship be sacrificed to their so-called business partnership involving the robbery?

In his Chicago Resale Junk Shop, Don mentors and teaches the ropes on how to become a crook to his young gofer Bobby. But Teach advises them not to mix friendship with business. After Bobby returns that evening with an American Buffalo nickel he bought from another collector, he offers to sell it to Donny. But how did Bobby get the coin? Did he commit the robbery, possibly with Fletcher, whom they are awaiting to accomplish the robbery with Teach? Suspicious of Bobby, Teach beats him up and, angry over Donny's protectiveness of Bobby, throws Donny's shop into shambles. Donny is mortified but he will put all back together when they return from bringing Bobby to the hospital.

The audience is left to resolve whether Bobby did betray his bosses and what the playwright is attempting to convey about friendship and business.

Keith Phillips sensitively directs his brother Chris Phillips, who plays Teach as the tortured, tempestuous crook with an iron will to succeed in his criminal schemes. Randy Hurst plays Donny, the mentor and fatherly image for young Bobby (Vlad Sayenko), who creates a docile kid. In this crowded Resale Junk Shop all three characters admirably handle a highly verbal text with individual expressive body movements establishing their characterizations. Teach's irate suspicious nature has him constantly bobbing up and gesturing with each word as he sits on stage right, the subtext of his angry words manifesting in his abrupt, bellicose movements his pugnacious beliefs that all humans are f**ked up and everyone is a s**t ass. Donny, the more giving character, remains calm and relaxed in his chair center stage, and Bobby sits slightly upstage left, timid, tense and rigid in his efforts to comprehend his bosses' schemes.

Sets by James Baldock and Jen Welch offer a cluttered junk shop with piled up props that take on a dramatic role of their own when they are violently thrown about by Teach. Costumes by Carole Robinson, lights by Rachel Klyce, and sound by James Baldock add to the believability of the action.

The idolatry of money symbolized by the American Buffalo nickel is at the basis of the relationship between these three petty robbers. In this worship of money, is the playwright portraying a possible breakdown of the human value of friendship? Only momentarily because after the dramatic climax of Bobby's beating and the wrecking of the Resale Junk Shop, the three characters' shift their concerns to Bobby's well-being and the reestablishing of the Junk Shop.

In this vigorous and meaningful revival of the American Buffalo, due to the gripping tour de force acting and directing by the Phillips brothers and their accompanying cast members, the Actors' Theatre offers a forceful tribute to the Mamet masterpiece.

Through Sept. 3, Actors Theatre SF. Info 345-1287 or www.actorstheatresf.org for upcoming productions. Dr. Annette Lust

The Complete History of America

It was a beautiful night. The audience entered the theatre to Billie Cox's patriotic music and were greeted by an ingenious set by Mark Robinson: a large poster-board covering the stage showing images highlighting events from 1492, 1776, 1861, 1942, 1952, 1969 and 2011.

Directed by Robert Currier and produced by Leslie Schisgall Currier and featuring just three actors, The Complete History of America (abridged) is a roller coaster ride taking us through the entire course of American history with brilliant comedic genius. As you can imagine, it is a wild ride with actors Darren Bridgett, Cassidy Brown and Mick Mize. The actors rely on accents, hats and wigs thrown on over patriotic clothes designed by Michael Berg, plastic vegetables, pasta and Super Soaker water guns (no matter where you sit you might get wet).

One of the highlights of the show was showing rejected flags made by Betsy Ross and her sister. A big hit was a song and dance vaudeville style of Lewis and Clark as they told the latest jokes of 1805.

Act I ended with a large timeline banner carried by the three actors throughout the audience in the spirit of fun. Act II opened with World War I to the music of "Over There." This is when the audience really gets sprayed with water by the men in the trenches.

The Complete History of America (abridged) requires the impeccable timing shown to advantage by the three talented actors. Robert Currier shows much imagination and style in his inventive direction.

If you are looking for an evening of good fun, The Complete History of America (abridged) is worth your time. This show received a standing ovation!

The Complete History of America (abridged) continues with Macbeth through Sept 25. For tickets, 499-4488 or go online at www.marinshakespeare.org.

Next at Marin Shakespeare: Shakespeare's The Tempest directed by Jon Tracy August 27-Sept 25 Flora Lynn Isaacson

Table Manners

Ross Valley Players ends its 81st season with Table Manners by Alan Ayckbourn. Three couples are involved on this particular July weekend in a Victorian house not far from London in 1973. They are all related either by blood or marriage except for Tom, the veterinarian (Christopher Hammond). Table Manners introduces us to the characters, starting with the overworked Annie, the unmarried daughter of the family who cares for her ill, but never seen mother who lies bedridden upstairs. Annie has been involved for about ten years with Tom, a shy veterinarian. He cannot bring himself to pop the question and prefers the company of his four- legged friends. Reg, Annie's brother, is a real estate agent who is very involved with his work. He is married to the stern, moralistic Sarah (Pamela Ciochetti) who continually sets about preserving order and preventing much fun from taking place, like seeing that Annie does not go off on a clandestine weekend with Norman. Then there is Norman himself, an assistant librarian, somewhat silly, but possessing an irresistible charm.

Director Robert Wilson directs all of the proceedings with a great deal of humor. Associate Director Judy Holmes, being British-born, coached the cast with impeccable British accents. Both brought out wonderful performances from the talented cast. Monique Sims stands out as a frowsy and brusque Annie and blossoms into a real beauty. Pamela Ciochetti is a thin-lipped controlling Sarah, Robin Schild is a passive and clownish Reg, Christopher Hammond is a slow thinking and stoical Tom, Robyn Wiley is a brittle and near-sighted Ruth, but Joseph Hoeber steals the show in a clownish and magnetic performance as Norman.

Set Designer David Apple built the charming set, a replica of an aging British country house. Michael A. Berg designed the very appropriate costumes.

Cheers to Robert Wilson and Judy Holmes and their talented cast for making Table Manners so much fun for us to enjoy!

Next at Ross Valley Players: Marc Camoletti's Don't Dress for Dinner. Reservations 415-456-9555 or rossvalleyplayers.com Flora Lynn Isaacson

OPEN AUDITIONS for the upcoming FRINGE OF MARIN FALL FESTIVAL Dominican University. For info call 415-673-3131 or visit Audition Contact at www.FringeofMarin.com

September 2011

 

Kafka's Metamorphosis and Human Alienation at the Aurora

The Aurora's production of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, adapted by British director David Farr and Icelandic actor/director Gisli Orn Gardarsson, opened with clerk Gregor Samsa waking up one morning to find himself transformed into an ugly insect. After a bed juts out from the upper part of the wall before us, Gregor (his transformation expertly mimed by Alexander Crowther), late for work, struggles to get out of bed. His stereotyped mother (Madeline H.D. Brown) and father (Allen McKelvy) and eventually his boss (Patrick Jones) reprimand Gregor. When the family sees his transformation his mother and father refuse to have him at the dinner table and only his sister (Megan Trout), who will not let him die of hunger, brings him food. Dependent on Gregor to pay the bills, the family will now take in a lodger. When a Nazi type potential lodger (Patrick Jones) makes arrangements to rent a room in their home, after discovering the ugly insect in the home, he abandons the room and leaves promising to punish the Jewish family for not disclosing this to him.

The more obvious meaning of Kafka's metaphor is that of alienation of an individual who is not complying with the family and society's requirements. Gregor is a sensitive soul, no doubt an artist like Kafka tired of a boring clerical job and attempting to encourage his sister to become a dancer. Like Kafka, who was sickly, he is disgusted by his physical appearance. Like Kafka, who was Jewish, he feels he is an outcast. And like Kafka, Gregor has a tense relationship with his father.

Director Mark Jackson expertly directs the play, set in the 1950s, like a farce with broad, exaggerated and stylized movement beautifully choreographed but with few farcical comic elements. Although these exaggerated movements serve to mock the conventionality of the family and the brutality of the Nazi lodger, the insertion of more comic moments, like those excellently played in the scene in which the lodger very slowly pays the Father (Allen McKelvy) bill by bill for the room, would lighten the austere stylization of the ensemble.

Otherwise the play is admirably directed by movement expert Mark Jackson who succeeds in transmitting Kafka's profound depiction of human and social alienation as well as render this theme relevant today.

Metamorphosis plays at the Aurora through July 17th. For information call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org. Dr. Annette Lust.

Two Spinsters In Search of Love at the Off Broadway West

In Indulgences In the Louisville Harem by John Orlock, two Kentucky spinster sisters struggle against the suffocating loneliness in their cloistered existence until swept into a thrilling, yet bizarre courtship by a world famous mesmerist and his assistant. This play, which opened June 17 at Off Broadway West Theatre Company, reminds one of Tennessee Williams.

In Indulgences, two sisters named Florence (Jocelyn Stringer) and Viola (Kim Saunders) are full of yearnings that find expression in flowery speeches and mutual reproach. They receive a catalog listing eligible gentlemen and argue about whether to use it. Pretty soon, two top-hatted men from the International Institute of Science and Populism turn up. They are Amos Robbilet (Damien Cin Seperi), a mesmerist who is unable to speak and Winfield Davis (Paul Stout), who serves as Robbilet's voice, wooing for him, like Cyrano, though occasionally also speaking for himself. The two are obviously con men who are more comic than menacing. In fact, the best moments of the Off Broadway West production belong to Winfield Davis. Perhaps this is because Davis' speeches are better written than the rest of the play or because Paul Stout brings a real sense of humanity to his role.Both Jocelyn Stringer and Kim Saunders give moving performances as the two sisters with superb Kentucky accents but should project their voices more. Damien Cin Seperi gives a fine comic mime performance as Robbilet.

Under the meticulous direction of Richard Harder a good balance was achieved between the comedy of the con men and the melancholy of the two sisters. The cozy living room set by Bert van Aalsburg was in period turn of the century style. The costuming by Sylvia Kratins was both authentic and proper for both period and character. The lighting design by Colin Cross was remarkable. Richard Harder's direction was crisp, clean and concise. Indulgences In the Louisville Harem is a natural for the Off Broadway West Theatre Company where the direct addresses to the audience and the comic turns emphasize the theater's intimacy.

Indulgences In the Louisville Harem continues through July 30 at the Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco. For tickets go to www.offbroadwaywest.org or call 800-838-3006.

Coming up next at Off Broadway Theatre Company will be Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard from Sept 30, 2011-Nov 5, at Phoenix Theatre, SF. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Let Me Down Easy at Berkeley Rep

The title, Let Me Down Easy, of Anna Devere Smith's solo at Berkeley's Roda Theatre announces the content of her piece that explores facing death and illness in the testamonials of more than a dozen prominent figures with a down-to-earth a sense of humor. Directed by Leonard Foglia, Smith proceeds with authority and a pragmatic and a positive attitude that reassures her audience from the start. So ably and vivaciously does she interview and impersonate each of her candidates, that one does not immediately perceive the profundity of her questions or that of the formers' responses.

We meet such personalities as cancer survivor Lance Armstrong and are amazed at his casual attitude about his battle with his condition and return to cycling. One of Smith's strongest portrayals is that of Ann Richards, former governor of Texas, in which she depicts the latter with a heavy Texan accent, chain smoking and a victim of cancer of the esophagus, commenting unabashedly on the weaknesses of George W.Bush.

Smith expertly interprets multiple impersonations - so many and so quickly that her transitions from one to another would not be as clear without the projected names and titles of each one above the stage. Yet it is this very energetic forging ahead to the next interview that she presents with forceful conviction that grabs and retains our attention.

Although Let Me Down Easy provokes laughter throughout, it carries within each of the interviews an in-depth inquiry into the ways each candidate of a different walk of life faces two of our greatest fears - death and illness. The solo actress/journalist accomplishes this aim with great artistry, amusing us with her straightforward and down to earth humor but not allowing us to leave without reflecting on how we will depart from this earth.

Let Me Down Easy is extended through July 10th. For information call 510- 647-2949 or visit www.Berkeley Rep.org.- Dr. Annette Lust

Reborning at the S F Playhouse

SF Playhouse just presented the world premiere of New York playwright Zayd Dohrn's Reborning, featuring three top local actors who offer superb acting . SF Playhouse veteran Lorri Holt (last seen as origami artist Ilana in Animals out of Paper) is pitch-perfect as exacting quiet Emily. Lauren English (who recently graduated with an MFA from the Tisch Graduate Acting Program in New York) is sensational as fragile and obsessive doll artist Kelly. As Emily's demands rise, years of carefully constructed denial over Kelly's own abandonment of an infant rise to the surface. Alexander Alioto is delightful as empathetic, but clueless, boyfriend of Kelly by the name of Daizy. A fourth character is a Reborning doll named Eva, the stimulus creating suspense and conflict that drive the characters. The doll named Eva, after Emily's late daughter, is amazingly lifelike, but Emily says it's not quite right, and Kelly, a perfectionist, vows to keep working until Emily is satisfied. As she works around the clock to finish it she begins to suspect that Emily is the mother who abandoned her nearly 30 years earlier. As seen in high-detail video projections (by Kristin Miltner) on Nina Ball's aptly makeshift New York loft set, Kelly makes realistic dolls for parents holding onto a memory of a grown or deceased child. In Josh Costello's skillful staging, the shifting balance between humor and suspense keep the experience tight.

Coming up next at the SF Playhouse will be the WEST COAST PREMIER of TIGERS BE STILL by Kim Rosenstock and directed by Amy Glazer, from June 21st through September 3rd, 2011. For tickets and for more info, call 415-677-9596, or visit at www.sfplayhouse.org- Flora Lynn Isaacson

WANTED-ACTORS-PLAYWRIGHTS-DIRECTORS FOR FRINGE OF MARIN FALL ONE ACT PLAY FESTIVAL Actor Auditions Aug. 23-24. For information call 415-673-3131

July-August 2011

Wretch Like Me at Old Roxie

After successfully staging his award winning solo "Wretch Like Me" in Bay Area and North Bay venues, David Templeton brought his piece to the hundred year old Roxie, a favorite spot for movies today, in the heart of San Francisco's Mission district. The one hour and a half live show narrated by writer/performer Templeton details his unhappy boyhood as a "geeky, skinny kid" unpopular with his schoolmates who poke fun at him for playing with puppets. After passing quickly over his early childhood, we learn how in the seventies he became a born again Christian in Downey, California. He is soon experiencing numerous baptisms, religious ceremonies, and fasts in the Jesus Club related with humor, as when he baptizes Eddie at Huntington Beach and suddenly realizes the latter has drowned in the waters only to see Eddie resurface covered with seaweed and enter into a fervid spiritual trance. We laugh heartily when he describes how his eccentric friend Cindy goes about telling strangers that she loves them but Jesus loves them more and how she wets her pants for Jesus in order not to lose a couple's attention while speaking about the Lord. His meeting with an Israelite begins to render him more conscious of his strenuous efforts to suffer like Jesus when the latter tells him this has removed all joy in his life. In a moment of clarity he realizes it may be preferable to live in a world like Jesus created where one is loved and never has to feel like a wretch.

Directed by David Yen, storyteller puppeteer Templeton's tale of his religious torment is related with both humor and glimmers of sorrow. He generously shares his failures once he rapidly gains his audience's support in his quest to find himself that is resolved when he discovers Jesus as a humanitarian. He has a talent for stepping into the skin of his characters and could enliven and enrich his many eccentric character descriptions with added impersonations. Templeton's lucid descriptions of his journey to find acceptance within himself gives spectators a sense of liberation when he finally succeeds.

A Wretch Like Me is spiritually, psychologically and artistically a highly worthwhile experience and an entertaining as well as thought provoking solo piece.

Information about upcoming performances of Wretch Like Me, such as at the Santa Rosa Cinnabar Theatre in August, click on the www.Wretch Like Me website. Dr. Annette Lust

Geoff Hoyle's Old Geezer at the Marsh

So packed with spectators each night is Geoff Hoyle's Geezer with performances added each week that an audience member remarked that the Marsh walls would soon need to be expanded. Hoyle's new show, he calls a workshop, is both visually entertaining, because of his talent as a mime with a flexible, rubber like body and thought provoking, because of its search for the meaning of life and its remarkable portrayal of old age. It is biographical of his boyhood in England, his loss of his father, World War 11, training with Etienne Decroux, master of Marcel Marceau, his role as a father, and, among other world wide stage and film activities, his clown career with the Pickle Family Circus. This eventually turns into a philosophical meditation when he reflects on growing older.

Hoyle's multiple talents comprise clowning, miming , slapstick, and physical comedy that enliven his depiction of slowly becoming an old geezer. All of these talents bring a rich fullness to the verbal aspect of the solo in which he is not only an actor but a multi skilled stage performer.

Do not miss participating in Geoff Hoyle's captivating so-called workshop of Geezer- through July 10th.

For information call 415-282-3055 or click on www.the marsh.org. Dr. Annette Lust

Rabbit Hole: A Family Copes with the Pain of Loss

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, which just opened at Ross Valley Players, is a 2006 Broadway smash hit which won the Pulitzer Prize and was nominated the Best Play for the Theatre Guild's Tony Awards.

Eight months after the accidental death of their four year old son Danny, Becca (Beth Kellermann) and Howie (Gregg LeBlanc) are struggling to return to their daily lives when Becca's younger and perpetually troubled sister, Izzy (Floriana Alessandria) announces she is pregnant. The couple's differing styles of grieving are thrown into sharp contrast as Becca's desire to escape the constant reminders of her son clash with Howie's attempts to hang on to the details of their little boy's past.

Becca, as played by Beth Kellermann, at first is difficult to like. She's distant from her husband, judgmental of her sister and rude to her mother, her sense of humor helps to balance. Howie played by Gregg LeBlanc is Becca's husband--a patient man who specializes in pretending everything is fine. Izzy (Floriana Alessandria) is Becca's younger sister. Ms. Alessandria plays her as a perennial party girl who never grew up. Izzy is still trying to find herself. She and her mother are the only two characters who use a New York accent. Her mother, Nat (Maureen O'Donoghue) is the opinionated alcoholic with a knack for sticking her foot in her mouth, telling parables about the Kennedy curse. Liam Hughes gives a sensitive performance as Jason, the awkward seventeen year old boy who drove the car that accidentally killed Danny.

Maryann Rogers directs Rabbit Hole with a recognition that we are not so different from each other. By doing so, we connect with a universal human experience as Rogers creates a unified vision of the play. She is ably aided by Ken Rowland's set and Ellen Brook's lighting design. Billie Cox's mellow sound design enhances Rabbit Hole's shifting moods and Michael A. Berg's costumes are just right for each character.
Rabbit Hole through June 17 at Ross Valley Players Barn Theatre. Reservations: 415-456-9555 or go online at www.rossvalleyplayers.com Flora Lynn Isaacson

CORRECTION to the The May issue: Aurora Theatre Company's next production is not Edward Albee's Delicate Balance. It is METAMORPHOSIS (June 10-July 17); Albee's Delicate Balance production does opens in September (Tickets for the Albee production will go on sale in August).

June 2011

FRINGE: A High Five for Program Two

Dr. Lust opened the 27th season of Program Two on Saturday, April 16 with a tribute to Bob Weiss, who recently passed away. She dedicated this festival to his memory. For the past ten years, Bob Weiss has been Associate Director of the Festival, and tonight’s program included an opera libretto by Weiss entitled Daniel. This season’s festival also included, in addition to one act plays and solo performances with family, social, satirical, biblical and psychological themes, a pantomime performed by “Teacher of the Year at Dominican University,” Professor Henry Schreibman.

The opening play, Convention of Spies, was a comedy written and directed Bill Chessman. This was a fast-paced farce about an imagined meeting between Walt Disney (John Vincent Burke), Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (C. Conrad Cady), and Marie Antoinette (Patricia Inabnet) at an International Spy Convention. Jim Colgan played Brad Donaldson, who got into the wrong convention. Lots of comic business ensued.

The second play was a solo performance by Charselle entitled Juice: Scenes from a Life. Charselle drew upon her own life experiences for her material. She has extremely good stage presence and diction, even with an Oklahoma accent. She moves well onstage and is a great story teller.

The third presentation was a powerful drama, Bindings by Gaetana Caldwell-Smith. Here we have a meeting between a half-sister and a half-brother after the death of their father. Claudia Rosa plays Ginny, who comes to call on Richard (sensitively portrayed by Tyler Hewitt). Richard had been the one to look after their ill father and Ginny comes to get back a copy of her book. Claudia Rosa’s ability to listen and react to Richard’s predicament was right on target.

The first half of the program concluded with Daniel, a rap version of the biblical story written by Bob Weiss and performed by Suzanne Birrell in a tour-de-force performance that encouraged audience participation. She moved gracefully, had a great sense of rhythm and did an amazing transformation of characters.

The second half of the program opened with my favorite play, Stanislavski, written by Kevin Brookes and directed by Buzz Halsing, with Emily Surface as Assistant Director. In this delightful play, an acting instructor, Conrad (Johnny DeBernard) inveigles his friend Damon (Ron Dailey), a food critic, to take over his acting class for one evening. The group of acting students played by Javier Alarcon, Patcharee Boyd, Bryana Tunder, Tom Dembski and Victoria Williams were all wonderful..

Next up was an amazing solo performance titled The Girl on BART, written by Linda Ayres-Frederick and Claudia V. Rosa, and beautifully directed by Linda Ayres-Frederick. In this solo performance, a girl studies the face of a woman she encounters and this triggers some emotional memories in her own life. Claudia V. Rosa is a superb actress in a very rich performance.

The final play of the evening was Patio Dreams, a comedy written by Don Sampson and directed by Carol Eggers. In this play, Janice (Claudia Rosa in a 3rd performance) and Tom (Rick Roitinger) play a married couple on vacation in the islands who plays imaginary games on one another to liven up their relationship. This play was both professionally acted and directed.

The Fringe of Marin discovers fresh voices and brings in the community to participate either as artists or spectators. Program Two continues Fridays, April 29 and May 6 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 30 at 2 p.m.; and Sunday, May 8 at 2 p.m. Program One plays Saturdays, April 30 and May 7 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 1 at 2 p.m. All performances are held at Meadowlands Hall, Dominican University in San Rafael. For reservations and more information, call 415-673-3131 or visit Fringe of Marin .com. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Inferno Theatre’s Ageless Iliad

In an innovative physical theatre version of Homer’s tale of the wars between the Trojans and the Greeks, stage director adaptor Giulio Perrone, with his company of physically trained international actors, brings this ageless theme of waging war into modern times. Accompanying Perrone’s highly physical interpretation in the program are a timetable and historical information to remind the spectator of the plots and themes in Homer’s epic poem based on the quarrel between King Agamemnon and Achilles over the kidnapping of Helen, wife of the Greek King Menelaus, by Paris. Interwoven in this physical dramatization are the themes of Achilles’ wrath, the need for revenge, and the search for glory and honor. Mixed into these themes is the use of modern language, props, and attire that render the piece even more relevant. The male characters wear soldier fatigues and the women modern high heels. They utilize cell phones and refer to safe sex. At one point, one of the actors cries out in prosaic language, “The people don’t want war; only the leaders want it!” as we have heard today’s citizens often decry.

The entire seven member cast, although coming from diverse training backgrounds, are well prepared by Perrone to meet the task of interpreting his creation with high-level physical theatre standards. His poetic dance/mime of the Iliad offers beautifully choreographed group movement, at times provoking fierce combat, and at other times, scenes with the characters embracing one another.

Perrone’s Iliad is a beautifully spun dance mime poem reminding us that man cannot thrive without satisfying the primitive urge to enter into violent animal-like combat with his fellow men.

Next up at the Inferno Theatre Company is Galileo’s Daughters at the Theatre San Pedro Square in San Jose from April 22 to May 8. For information visit www.tabardtheatre.org or call 800-838-3006. Dr. Annette Lust

Tennessee Williams: The Eccentricities of a Nightingale

If any play is more revealing of the personal life and character of Tennessee Williams it is his Eccentricites of a Nightingale that he reworked for seventeen years. This was to render Willliams’ version of the same theme in Summer and Smoke, a still more truthful depiction of a female revolting against the conventions of her time and family.

Southern accents are well-depicted by the cast, and period costumes (Laura Hazlett) are well-designed. Set design by Liliana Duque Pineiro, with lights by Jim Cave, is economically conceived and spacious enough to allow for group and other movement.

Eccentricities of a Nightingale reveals the trials and tribulations of Williams’ personal life depicted in a heartfelt manner in one of Williams’ most captivating masterpieces.

Eccentricities plays until May 8th followed by Edward Albee’s Delicate Balance. Info 510-843.4822 or visit www.AuroraTheatre.org Dr. Annette Lust

May 2011

Fringe of Marin Announces 27th Festival of New Bay Area One-Acts & Solos

Half Price tickets for Westside Observer Readers

For its 27th season new short one-acts and solos by Bay Area playwrights will be performed to vie for Bay Area Theatre Critics Jury Best Play $100 Award and Bay Area Actors and Directors certificates. It will feature premieres of one-acts and monologues ranging from light and dark comedy and family drama to puppetry, mime and rap on a Bible theme.

Come applaud Westside Observer Theatre Critic Flora Lynn Isaacson in S. Birrell's intriguing It's Very Crowded in Meadowlands Assembly Hall at Dominican University of California, 50 Acacia Ave, San Rafael, April 15th to May 8th, Fri/ Sat 7:30 p.m. and Sun 2 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. matinee on Sat April 30.th

Admission $15: seniors/students $10; children $5. Reservations/info (415) 673-3131 or Jeanlust@aol.com Dr. Annette Lust

Ruined

The testimonies of ruined women at the Berkeley Rep.

Although Lynn Nottage's play Ruined is situated in the Congo in a house for prostitutes and midst hard working miners, who according to Mama come to her bordello as a safe haven from rebel uprisings and military control, the demise of women ruined by male abuse is a universal predicament. In Lynn Nottage's Ruined, presently appearing at Berkeley Rep and directed by Liesl Tommy, the dramatic action is based on multiple interviews with Congolese women conducted by the playwright. The dramatic action is the result of one interview based on the character Salima, poignantly performed by Pascale Armand as a young wife kidnapped, imprisoned and raped by men attempting to arrest her husband.

Much of the action revolves around Sophie, sensitively performed by Carla Duren as the damaged niece of Mama's admirer Christian (warmly portrayed by Oberon K.A.Adjepong), whose efforts to marry Mama,( Tonye Patano as the leading force of the play's action), bring both pathos and comedy to the ensemble. Despite the despairing situation of these women subjected to the carnal attacks of the miners, the banding together of these young girls to tell their stories provides some relief. And the play's conclusion also offers a message of love that heals the wounded.

Set design by Clint Ramos of a Congolese bordello, despite an overbearing use of props and furniture, provides sufficient space for multiple characters, brawls and dance scenes. Colorful costume design by Kathleen Geldard suits the action and characters. Lighting by Lap Chi Chu illuminates the entire stage bringing clarity and a soothing effect to these despairing dramatized stories.

The power of the play lies in the expert performance of true stories likened to women's bodies being on a battlefield in which rape is used as weapons of war. Presented without a note of sensationalism or activism, these women's personal experiences profoundly move us, meriting the full audience standing ovation they received.

Ruined plays until April 10 in the Roda Theatre at Berkeley Rep. Next up: Chekhov's Three Sisters, translation by Sarah Ruhl; directed by Les Waters, April 8 – May 22. For info call 510-647-2949 or visit Berkeleyrep/org

Quilters

Sixteen Blocks of Prairie Women's Lives.

Ross Valley Player's production of Quilters, pieced together with love and stitched with pride, is a musical delight to capture the whole family. Quilters, a musical and book by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashe, is about the lives of American pioneer women based on the book, The Quilters--Women and Domestic Art, An Oral History written by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Hall. Through a collection of different voices, Quilters is a patchwork of stories experienced by a family of pioneer women. These women share their life experiences, both the dramatic and everyday, as they create quilt blocks to record their tales. The dialogue of the play is interspersed with song to heighten the effect. Sandi V. Weldon leads the ensemble as Sarah, the matriarch of a family that includes seven daughters played by Sheila M. Devitt, Kele Gasparini, Dawn Marie Hamilton, Olivia Harrison, Carolyn Montellato, Monica Turner and Rachel Watts. Many of the cast of daughters fall easily into place as children, men of the prairie, wives, daughters or teachers. This new production at Ross Valley Players is more elaborate than ever with Bruce Lackovic's woody, rough-hewn set, Les Lizama's spectacular lighting, Michael A. Berg's authentic costuming, Linda Dunn's deft direction and Gloria Woods' musical direction which includes some amazing choreography. At times the prairie accent was a little hard to understand. However, with this production there is also love, warmly rich and lively humor and the moving spectacle of simple human dignity and steadfastness in the face of adversity.

Quilters runs through Sunday, April 17. For tickets, call 415-456-9555 or go online at www.rossvalleyplayers.com. Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be Rabbit Hole, a drama by David Lindsay-Abaire anld directed by Mary Ann Rodgers, May 13-June 12, 2011. Flora Lynn Isaacson

The Dumb Waiter, 1957, is one of Pinter's more exemplary plays enticing audiences with the language (Lower Manchester) and inherent tensions built into human relationships. Pinter's conversation between two down and out hit men is the perfect backdrop for his exploration of the human condition as it relates to the meaning of life, social standing, and an individual's perception of himself in. Ben (Shane Fahy) and Gus (Conor Hamil) hash out the significance while waiting for the terms of their "next job" while Pinter uses them to scrutinize life's ugliest moments and impulses. Director Durand Garcia's production mixes off-beat comedy with something more menacing.

The Lover, written in 1962, is Pinter's treatise on sexual desire breaking through the confines of middle class convention. Outside London, a married couple, Sarah(Nicole Helfer) and Richard (Chad Stender) play out a scintillating game. This couple spices up their marriage by pretending to be adulterous lovers in the afternoon. The husband goes off to work as a redress and high heels to welcome him back as a "whore" after lunch. The only problem is that role-playing games often get out of hand and lead to unexpected conflict.

The Lover is sensitively directed by Cecilia Palmtag.

        This double bill will run through March 26, 2011 at the Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco.For reservations call 800-838-3006 or go on line at www.offbroadwaywest.org.

 Flora Lynn Isaacson

April 2011

Collapse

Although the title Collapse by Allison Moore playing until March 6 at the Aurora may evoke a psychological breakdown or the physical crumpling of an individual, or of a building, city, state or nation and beyond, the play is actually written and played quite the opposite to that of a tragic theme. Here the breakdown of a couple's marriage, parallel with the actual collapse of a section of 35 W bridge spanning the Mississippi River along with the economic decline in 2008, is written and played so comically that the audience, rather than being moved by these depressing circumstances, is roaring with laughter from start to finish. And this knack of transforming dejected events into spirited comedy is due to playwright Allison Moore's special talent for comic repartee that lifts the spirit in the most dire of circumstances.

Directed by Jessica Heidt with a vivacious and speedy pace, we first witness husband David (Gabriel Marin as the laid back husband) giving wife Hannah (Carrie Paff as David's neurotic worrisome wife) a hormone shot in the butt. Hannah, whose job is on the line, keeps reminding David, who misses reporting to work each day, that he should go to his meeting that we eventually learn is for AA members. A little later Hannah's sister Susan (interpreted by Amy Resnick as a calamitous and outspoken nuisance) visits supposedly for only a few days bringing with her a questionable package to deliver that lends comedy as well as mystery to the plot. Hannah's encounter with Ted (Aldo Billingslea plays Hannah's smooth and reassuring confidant), who is involved in the intrigue regarding Susan's package, heightens the mystery. It is Hannah's heroic will to survive these inner and exterior collapses that eventually grounds and strengthens her marriage. In David and Hannah's last lines (delivered a bit too rapidly opening night to fully appreciate their depth) Hannah and David discuss the latter's involvement in the collapse of the Mississippi Bridge in Minneapolis. As they wonder why the bridge fell and how to keep it and everything else from falling their heartfelt conclusion as they rediscover one another is "We just have to figure out how to fall together."

Collapse thru March 6. Tennessee Williams' Eccentricities of a Nightingale opens April 1 thru May 8th. Info 510-843-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org. Dr. Annette Lust

Theatre Critics Circle Awards Ceremony

The San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle will proudly host on April 4th their 35th Annual Awards Ceremony, celebrating Bay Area theatre excellence during 2010. Awards will be given for Touring, Over 300 Seat Theatres (Drama and Musical), 100-300 Seat Theatres (Drama and Musical) and Under 99 Seat Theatres (Drama and Musical). Complete listing of Nominees (avail. mid-February) at sfbatcc.org.

The public is invited to join the Critics Circle in applauding the talented theatre folk who make magic on our local stages. The Awards Ceremony will be held at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre Lobby, 3301 Lyon Street, SF (free parking). Doors open at 6pm, and Awards begin at 7:30pm. Dress is business casual to formal. To purchase ticket in advance, call (800) 838-3006 or at BrownPaperTickets/event/145208. Day of event, tickets may be purchased at the door (cash only). In addition to presenting the Awards, there will be refreshments and entertainment.

Representing the print and electronic media, the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle will announce the winners of 37 Drama awards and 38 Musical awards from 400+ nominated actors, designers, productions, and more reviewed in 2010. Over 400 productions were seen in 2010 by the 28 Circle critics reviewing theatre from San Jose to Santa Rosa, San Francisco to Concord.

Again this year, Actors' Equity Association, representing over 1000 actors and stage managers in the Bay Area, is proud to partner with the Circle and sponsor the Awards.

Hobo Grunt Cycle

Puppets at the Exit Send a Message about War and Violence

Nationally renowned puppeteer and Exit Artist in Residence Kevin Augustine, now performing his Hobo Grunt Cycle at the Exit, begins with silent clowning recalling the early 20th century silent movies that had the titles and dialogue placed on a screen above or below the mimed silent action. The clowning and magic scenes of the first section of the piece are interspersed with life sized puppets, expertly manipulated by well hidden puppeteers. These life-sized puppets are juxtaposed upon the action to express through movement and grotesquely deformed mask faces the consequences of war and violence. As we watch the hobo sweep the floor and feed and train his beloved dog to do simple clown tricks our attention is simultaneously drawn to veterans without an arm or leg sitting in a corner or to the side of the stage who evoke surrealistic images of creatures warped by war and violence.

The second half of the piece offers a less ponderous treatment of the war theme and introduces an integrated development of animal companionship and abuse. Hobo's beloved dog is kidnapped to be victimized in bloody dog fights. After Hobo finds his dog mortally wounded the action takes on a happy turn as he patiently cares for and retrains him to do his old dog tricks.

We empathize with the dog's subjection to cruel violence and rejoice in his rescue. The theme of the fatalities of war returns to leave us with the poetic message sent from a wife to her husband at war in July 1863, "May you live to see that men shall war no more."

Hobo Grunt Cycle's combination of an older style of silent clowning with touches of surrealism added to sentimental lyricism endows this puppet piece with a style of its very own. While these puppets move to perfection to make us wonder if we are not seeing a live dog performing with actors that resemble grotesque puppets they simultaneously impart a message that makes us ponder about the devastating repercussions of warring.

Hobo Grunt Cycle plays until March 2nd.For info call 415-673-3847 or visit www.theexit.org.
Continuing at the Exit until April 16th is Obscura: A Magic show by theatrical magician Christian Cagigal. Dr.Annette Lust

Sex and Death

Pinter plays at Off Broadway West

Broadway West Theatre Company presents Sex and Death, a pair of one act plays written in the 1960s by 2005 Nobel Prize Winner Harold Pinter. In The Lover, Pinter chronicles an unusual love triangle while in The Dumbwaiter, two hit men waiting in a basement room for their assignment, question the nature of their profession. The Lover is directed by Cecilia Palmtag and The Dumbwaiter is directed by Durand Garcia. The Pinter shorts will be performed at the Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco Feb. 25 to March 26 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

For info and tickets call 800-838-3006 or visit www.Off Broadway West.org.

March 2011

 

The Last Cargo Cult

Mike Daisey, a storyteller full of surprises, returns to Berkeley Rep

As we enter the Thrust Stage the usher hands me a twenty dollar bill and my guest a one dollar bill. Surprised from the start of Daisey's fast moving monologue, The Last Cargo Cult, we are next taken aback by a set filled with boxes piled from the floor to the ceiling behind the table where Daisey sits to deliver his monologue. He begins by describing a rocky plane trip to a South Pacific Island that makes a landing on water that provokes screams and we are surprised when the pilot is able to spin the plane out and all the passengers quiet down as we believe they are able to make a bumpy on- shore landing. Daisey suddenly jumps to a description of how he was a poor student in a liberal arts college where he soon learned that despite what the school had advertised there was no equality among the students. Daisey then jumps to a description of a celebration on the island for John Fromm, considered by the islanders as a deity in heaven who sends them shipments of material riches in cargos. Thus the reason for Daisey's title, The Last Cargo Cult, that refers to the islanders' cult that reveres America's preoccupation with material acquisitions.

Daisey's storytelling continues to make his spectators laugh spontaneously, as well as surprises them with sudden outbursts of his underlying message: our belief that money is the financial basis of our world, but how money controls and victimizes us.

At the end of his piece his final surprise is to move downstage and say, "In fact many of you leaving tonight will ask yourself if you got your money's worth. I gave you all my earnings for this performance to render the abstract idea of money concrete. But I do have to pay my rent. So you are welcome to place the bills you received in this can on the table before leaving." Which to everyone's surprise, most of the spectators did do.

Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory, Daisey has tightened his former tendency to ramble garrulously. His piece this season is structured and projects his dynamic stage presence. His chutzpah and provocative ironic humor are interspersed with tales of travel, politics, morals, psychological insight and comedic accounts of personal tales such as riding with his wife as the chauffeur, whose painfully awkward driving he is not allowed to criticize.

For a lively evening that will keep you wide awake see Daisey's Last Cargo Cult and The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs that run through Feb. 27.th Tickets/Info510-647-2949 or visit berkeleyrep.org. Dr. Annette Lust

Candid

A circus show with a meaning, Sweet Can Production's new show Candid is not your ordinary circus that mainly presents spectacular physical skill feats, acrobatic stunts, and clowning. Rather, Candid continues to convey an underlying message regarding the company's mission to stage meaningful circus.

From the very start, two frightened couples peering through a window at a raging storm run back indoors to read and tear up newspapers filled with dismal happenings that they trash. They combat their glum feelings by imaginatively manipulating everyday objects and circus props. Chinese acrobatics specialist Matt White dances with a broom that he caresses and later balances on his forehead. There follow handstands, cartwheels, tap dancing with garbage cans over their heads, breathtaking contortions by Nobutaka Mochimaru, happy hoop dancing by Natasha Kaluza, co-founder Kerri Kresinski performing spectacular acrobatics as she climbs to the heavens on aerial silks, and clown Jamie Coventry juggling plates as a café waiter.

Their spirits lifted, the couples return to the window to see a calm sky and bright sunlight. They proceed to play games such as musical chairs. One of the female acrobats moves into the audience kissing spectators in a fun audience interaction. Finally they mount a staircase of furniture pieces and poised, look upward as though awaiting a future challenge. Their sturdy stances reassure us that they will stretch their imagination to convert daily hurdles, as their mission states, "into a breathtaking circus."

According to the message underlying Candid, we need to reaffirm our power to make change when faced with dire circumstances. The title of the production suggests a double meaning. For founder Beth Clarke and co-founder Kerri Kresinsky, it contains a play on words. One meaning is "Can did (it)" in response to the title of their former production "Yes, Sweet Can." In reference to the second meaning Clarke adds, "We like the open, spontaneous nature of the word candid as not wearing masks, available, honest, vulnerable." And, as also stated in their mission, Sweet Can aims "to create intimate, heartfelt performances in which the audience and performer easily connect with one another. The company presents the circus performer as a human being accessible to everyone and who uses his circus skills to make connections by demonstrating the shared emotional experiences that unite us all."

Candid is a mix of circus arts integrated with dance, mime, and original music interspersed with popular tunes by musician composer Eric Oberthaler. Directed by Joanna Hargood, an internationally famed choreographer and S.F. Clown Conservatory teacher, the performers offer a lively rendering of each of their specialties, technically perfected since their last show and that appear to be freshly improvised in this new one. They make us feel that we are part of their family of acrobats in an intimate playing space.

This spirited home grown circus that entertains and appeals to audiences from tots to the elderly inspires us with the courage to reconvert our tribulations through the power of our creative imagination.

Candid plays through Jan. 9th at the Dance Mission Theater, 3316 Mission St., S.F. For info call 4125-273-4633 or visit www.sweetcanproductiions.com for future company events. Dr. Annette Lust

Coraline

A Morality Tale. The San Francisco Playhouse is currently presenting the West Coast Premiere of the musical stage version of Coraline, Neil Gaiman's story of a bored young girl who finds her way into a fantasyland that is not what it seems. Gaiman's story was adapted for the stage by Obie-Winning Playwright David Greenspan and features book and lyrics by indie-musician, Stephin Merritt (of the rock group The Magnetic Fields).

Coraline (Julia Belanoff alternating with Maya Donato) discovers a locked door while exploring her new home in an old four-unit house. Her mother (Stacy Ross) and her father (Jackson Davis) work from home and are so bound to their computers they have little time for Coraline. Coraline finds a key that opens a door. Behind the door are duplicate parents with much more time for love and games, who look just like her own except for the large black buttons they have for eyes. They turn into scary figures as the plot develops and Coraline longs for her home again.

Coraline's only friend is the sardonic Cat (Brian Yates Sharber) who has one of the best voices in the ensemble. There are three roomers in her house: Mr. Bobo and an old circus mouse trainer played with a humorous touch by Brian Degan Scott and two aged actresses, delightfully portrayed by Susie Damilano and Maureen McVerry. Julia Belanoff has both a good voice and stage presence as Coraline, but many of her words get lost. Stacy Ross steals the show as Coraline's mother, as does Director Bill English with his clever black and white set which sets the mood for the show. Valera Coble's costumes are imaginative.

This production is a morality tale because Coraline develops courage as she steps up to the challenge of her journey beyond the door and discovers contentment after all.

Coraline through Jan.15, Tickets 415-677-9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org. Harper Regan by Simon Stephens Jan. 25-Mar. 5. Flora Lynn Isaacson

February 2011

Mummenschanz Returns

After thirty years the Swiss company Mummenschanz, one of the most renowned mime/mask compan
ies, returns to perform at Cal Performances bringing with them a retrospective of their most successful creations. The title of their present production is “3x11,” a 33 year collection of their most appreciated pieces.

“Mummenschanz” is derived from “mummer,” a pantomime performer (from whence the word “mum” meaning silent) and has as synonyms the words mask and buffoonery. “Schanz” means chance. The company was founded after clown-acrobat Andrés Bossard and pantomimist Bernie Schïrch trained at the Lecoq School of mime in Paris and staged their first show in 1969. They were joined by Italian-American Floriana Frasseto in 1971 and then performed as a threesome. After the death of Andrés Bossard, in 2000 the company was joined by Raffaella Mattioll, Pietro Montandon, and technical director JanMaria Lukas.

Influenced by cubism and dadaist skits in Swiss cabaret shows, the company reduces content to a given theme or essence of an idea. Rather than utilizing illusion mime, classical pantomime’s anecdotal content, or whiteface, the mimes move spectators on a visceral as well as imaginative level through an original use of masks. These masks are made of oversized props that cover the body of one or more mimes. They are made from such items as toilet paper rolls for the eyes, nose and mouth, from prosaic hardware items or from clay to create imaginative images. With plastic bags, salad strainers and other everyday items found in department stores, supermarkets, factories and trade shows, the mimes improvise and develop movement patterns and innovative content. As they manipulate these objects they transform them into amoebas, worms, frogs, monkeys, and primates and into figures with paper-bag, chessboard, drawings, and heads and faces made of ping pong balls. At one point they mold clay masks on their faces, pull them off and begin again. Or they draw luminous profiles of faces in the air— all geometrical and abstract forms performed without words or music. The fantasy world it creates likewise reveals serious content. “It displays man’s development from the cell and his relationship with animal forms while ripping away our own masks of pomposity” (program notes, Berkeley, 1979). We become aware of the poetry of everyday objects within a world of growing materialism.

Mummenschanz performs in other American cities after Nov. 28. For info: www.Mummenschanz.

Annette Lust

Fringe of Marin • Program One

The 26th Season of the Fringe of Marin begins with three plays and three solo performances. In all, 12 new plays and solos, one of which will be selected by Bay Area Theatre Critics for Best Play Award.

David Hirzel’s Francis and Sophy: A Victorian Romance (based on a true story) opened the program. This play is an imagined encounter between two historical figures, Captain Francis Crozier (Byron Lambie) and his intended bride, Sophy Cracroft (Alexa Chipman) in 1845. Sophy declined the Captain’s proposal of marriage before he left on a long and dangerous voyage to explore the Arctic wilderness, however to inspire him, she gave him a letter to open in six months and another a year later, knowing his ship would still be frozen in the ice of the Northwest Passage. Byron Lambie gives a heartfelt performance as the Captain who is struggling to make the best of a difficult situation. Alexa Chipman is a vision of loveliness as Sophy in a beautiful peach Victorian gown. The sound effects are especially effective as is Hirzel’s direction of the two contrasting scenes.

In A Writer’s Dilemma, written and performed by Judy Baldassari and directed by Suresa Dundes. With especially good eye contact with the audience and wonderful facial expression, Baldassari spoke about writing, a mixed blessing as she moves along roads of self discovery and comes face to face with her fears, providing us with a good analysis of her true feelings.

Line Load, written and performed by Steve North, closed the first half of the program. North is a superb solo performer whose timing and imagery are perfect example of the Art of the Solo Performer.

Lights, Camera, Love, written and directed by George Dykstra, opened the second half of the program. Harold Delinsky enters as the cameraman who sets up the scene. Obreanna McReynolds delightfully plays three different women who speak to the camera about what women want in a man. Ross Turner plays two contrasting men in a very professional performance. Both actors had great timing and seemed very natural in front of the camera.

With Held, written and performed by Jeremy Julian Greco, offered a true story of an artist named John Held. Greco, as Mr. Held, his energy and his stage performance were top notch.

Last, but not least, A Thief with Principle, written and directed by Harry Diavatis, who also starred. Mr. Diavatis was Bernie, a mortgage broker with a Cadillac. The thief was played by Dal Burns with a British upper lip and much humor alternatly the thief is played by Nathan Day, a particularly good chemistry playing opposite Diavatis. A play of real substance and it leaves you questioning who is the thief.

Program One Sat. December 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Meadowlands, Dominican University, 50 Acacia, San Rafael. Reservations/info 415 673-3131/www.fringeofmarin.com.

Program Two At Fringe of Marin

Program Two included five plays and one solo performance. Emily and Walt, by Carol Hochberg and sensitively directed by Linda Ayres-Frederick: an imagined meeting between Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Heidi Wolff plays the shy and aloof Emily. Miriam Chase plays her sister, Lavina, in a comedic fashion and Raul R. Rubio gives a bravura performance as Walt Whitman, the complete antithesis of Emily.

What Do We Do with a Coffin, a comedy written and directed by Carol Sheldon. Much of this farce is true—the mortician gets busted. In on the fun are Carol Eggers, Crystal Nezgoda, Stuart Chappell, Roger Marquis and David Klein.

Scramble Time is a light comedy written by Shirley King, and cleverly directed by Robin Schild. It takes place in a garage where Kelly (Gigi Benson), as a stewardess, treats people in the garage including a businessman, Jason, (Monty Paulson) and Gracie (Crystal Nezgoda), a woman kept from going to the bathroom for 5 hours by the flight attendant who tries to control them as if they were passengers on an airplane.

A Magical Trio: The Movies of my Mind are three beautifully written monologues performed by magician Michael Belitsos. The first, The Paradise Program, is a dream about three personal books with soothing classical music in the background. The second, Red Silk Memory is about his grandfather who was a magician and the third, Martini-In the News involved a trip to Paris. This was a hauntingly beautiful performance.

Healing Court written by Micheline Birger and fabulously directed by Suzanne Birrell brings Crystal Nezgoda back in a third performance as a mixed-up girl in search of herself. Scott Zanassi is a wise Judge Guru who tries to help her.

The Story of Oh, Revised and Abridged, a comedy written and directed by Jim Colgan. Amusing performances by Racheal Denny, Simon Patten, Rana Kangas-Kent and Conrad Cady. The word “Oh” is used to mean many different things.

Fall 2010 Program Two Fri. Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m., Sun. Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. at Meadowlands, Dominican Univ., 50 Acacia, San Rafael. Reservations/info: 415-673-3131/ www.fringeofmarin.com.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

December 2010

Who’s Proof Is It Anyway?

The first scene of Proof begins on the night of Catherine’s 25th birthday when she is troubled about how much of her father’s madness or genius she has inherited. Her father was a brilliant mathematician who now realizes that he could never surpass the genius of his youthful years. Catherine has inherited some of her father’s melancholia as well as his mathematical skills. Her sister Claire wants her to come to New York where mental help is waiting. Meanwhile after Catherine shows Hal, a graduate student in love with her, a math proof that dazzles him, she must convince him and Claire that she wrote it. Proof is both a penetrating character study as well as a gripping whodunnit.

Nearly every scene in Proof is based on a piece of information cunningly withheld until the last moment. Director Suzanne Birrell picks up on the essential playfulness of the strategic games in the script and directs her actors to toy with each other in a playful manner to make this a contrast to the serious side, as well as an entertaining play. She also has composed elegant music to set up and sustain the tension of each scene.

Gabrielle Patacsil lets us see Catherine struggle with her deepest fears, greatest desires and endless doubts. Nearly every scene requires her to juggle a dizzying number of twists and turns. In this extremely demanding role, she takes us on a brilliant journey.

As Robert, Kevin Copps’ portrayal was elegantly understated, heightening the impact when he brings a focused intensity in to brief moments of anger and pain, regret and love.

Eric Reid was a delight as Hal. He contributed to the comedic moment so necessary for the play’s success.

Theresa Adams shows the strength needed and sacrifices Claire has made to create a “normal life” for herself. We see how she survives by compartmentalizing and being “practical.”

Ultimately the greatest credit for the success of this production is due to Director Suzanne Birrell, who draws from her actors genuine emotions, totally believable moment to moment.

Presented by Bell Jar Theatre, through October 24, Exit Theatre (Stage Left), San Francisco. Obtain tickets in advance through brownpapertickets.com and at the door. Flora Lynn Isaacson

The Sunset Limited

—The Subway of Earthly Existence The San Francisco Playhouse opened its 8th season with the West Coast Premiere of The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy. The play involves only two nameless characters designated “White” and “Black,” their respective skin colors. Offstage, just before the play begins, Black (Carl Lumbly) saves White (Charles Dean) from throwing himself in front of a train, the Sunset Limited.

All of the action takes place in Black’s sparse apartment in urban New York, where the two characters go (at the behest of Black) after their encounter on the platform.

Black is an ex-convict and evangelical Christian. White is an atheist and a professor. They debate the meaning of human suffering, the existence of God, and the propriety of White’s attempted suicide.

This play is hardly traditional theatre, because dialogue rather than action drives the story. Yet McCarthy’s language is so rich that it makes up for the lack of incidents. Lumbly and Dean are both marvelous in their roles and Bill English’s set design is perfect. English is also the director. Riveting from start to finish.

The Sunset Limited at SF Playhouse, tickets, 415-677-9596 www.sfplayhouse.org. Coming up next is Sandbox Series, the World Premiere of Seven Days by Daniel Heath, Oct. 13 through Nov. 6. Then Coraline by David Greenspan and Stephen Merritt, Flora Lynn Isaacson

New One-Acts & Solos Theatre Critics Awards.

Bay Area and Dominican Fringe of Marin’s Twenty-Sixth Festival. For its 26th season, new short one-acts and solos by Bay Area playwrights, directors and actors will be performed to vie for Bay Area Theatre Critics Best Play, Actors, and Directors awards. Granted a Special Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award, the Fringe of Marin Festival will take place in Meadowlands Hall Theatre at Dominican University of California, 50 Acacia Ave, San Rafael, from Nov.12 to Dec.5, 2010, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. matinee on Sat. Nov. 20. The Festival features a prominent magician-storyteller along with Bay Area and Beyond one-acts and monologues ranging from light and dark comedy and drama about a Victorian romance, an attack on psychiatry, and an imaginary meeting of literary figures Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman to an original pantomime satirizing sex.

Admission $15-$17: seniors/ students $10; children $5. Reservations/info (415) 673-3131 or Jeanlust@aol.com. Annette Lust

Hedda Gabler

General Gabler’s Daughter Off Broadway West Theatre Company has just opened Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen as the first play of their fifth season. The entire play takes place in Oslo, Norway in the 1890’s in the Tesman’s living room adjoined to a smaller back room. When the play opens, we view General Gabler’s portrait lit up with Hedda standing beside it to indicate that Hedda, as a personality, is to be regarded as her father’s daughter, rather than as Hedda Tesman, her husband’s wife.

From a slow beginning, the play gradually builds in tempo and the tension mounts until it becomes almost unbearable. This play is so closely knit, the dialogue so pointed, the characters drawn with such fullness, yet with such economy of means, that not one word, nor one silence, is superfluous.

Cecilia Palmtag’s Hedda is a woman in her late 20’s. Her face and figure show breeding and distinction. She is able to convince people, to charm them and to inspire confidence in them. Her cold exterior hides a demon and to the credit of Cecilia Palmtag, that demon is hidden.

When the play quietly opens we meet Bertha (Alison Sacha Ross), George and Hedda Tesman’s servant. Alison’s Bertha tries very hard to please Hedda, her new mistress, but Hedda is dissatisfied with her. Maureen Williams’ Aunt Julia is well meaning and she is constantly hinting that Tesman and Hedda should have a baby. Aunt Julia tries to get along with Hedda, but the difference in their class backgrounds makes it difficult. After this opening scene, George Tesman arrives. Adam Simpson’s Tesman is an amiable, intelligent, young scholar. He tries to please his young wife, Hedda. Soon, Thea Elvstead (Jocelyn Stringer) comes to call on Hedda. Jocelyn plays her as a mousy girl who claims neither social, nor individual superiority unlike Hedda.

When Mrs. Elvstead leaves, Judge Brack (Peter Abraham) arrives. Peter Abraham brings great dignity to his role. Paul Baird gives a sensitive portrayal of Eilert Lovborg who arrives at the end of Act I. In Act II. the genius, Lovborg is Tesman’s biggest competitor in the academic world. He seems greatly attracted to Hedda.

Director Richard Harder directs Ibsen’s masterpiece with both clarity and careful attention to detail in the relationships between the characters. Set Designer Bert van Aalsburg creates a handsome and functional set. The lovely period costumes were designed by Sylvia Kratins and Colin Cross’ lighting design is quite effective.

Hedda Gabler continues at the Phoenix Theatre through November 13. For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or go online at www.OffBroadwayWest.org. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Seven Days - The Ups and Downs of Love

The San Francisco Playhouse has just opened its second season of the Sand Box Series with the World Premiere of local playwright Daniel Heath’s Seven Days directed by Susi Damilano.

Seven Days is about the love stories we tell each other and tell ourselves, and how a week can change everything. Three relationships spanning three generations play out over a single week as love is lost, found and diagrammed on the wall.

The play opens on day one, which is a Sunday, at an art exhibit hosted by our leading man, Al (innocently played by Cole Alexander Smith). He has invited his fiancée Anna (a sexy Jessica Coghill), his best friend Robert (a more worldly wise Aaron Murphy), Robert’s wife and Anna’s boss Eva (a no-nonsense Donna Dahrouge), Robert’s father Tank, a country hick, (David Cramer), and finally Al’s mother Beatrice played by Phoebe Moyer in a superlative performance as a conservative, uptight divorcee.

Our playwright, Daniel Heath, takes us on a journey of seven days into the lives of the entire cast. Each has a monologue spread throughout the play of their inner thoughts.

Set Designer Jeremy Harris sets the stage on risers. Graphics Designer Rob Dario lets us know with supertitles what day it is. Daniel Heath’s dialogue is crisp and full of humor. Susie Damilano’s clever direction provides perfect timing for her talented cast. The sold out house gave the performance an outstanding ovation.

Seven Days plays at Stage 2 at the SF Playhouse through Nov.6.

For tickets, contact SF Playhouse box office at 415-677-9596 or go online at www.sfplayhouse.org.

Coming up next at the Main Stage of SF Playhouse -January 15, 2011 will be the West Coast Premiere of Coraline by David Greenspan and Stephin Merritt and directed by Bill English. Flora Lynn Isaacson

November 2010

Word for Word’s Wizardry

It is hard enough for good companies to stage quality plays with a readymade dialogue. And still fewer companies take on the challenge to successfully instill dramatic life into novels and short stories. If any theatre company can bring prose to life it is Word for Word that has a unique talent for spotting novels and stories that can be dramatized. And if the prose has little dialogue they have an acting technique that effectively dramatizes and physicalizes narration. A recent example is their production of Elizabeth Strout’s novel Olive Kitteridge, presently being staged in their inaugural season of Z Space at Theater Artaud.

Word for Word’s world premiere of Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, consisting of two stories entitled “Tulips” and “River,” is based on the life of small town characters in Maine. The dramatic conflict revolves mainly around forthright retired math teacher Olive Kitteridge, magnificently interpreted by Patricia Silver along with excellent performances by Paul Finocchiaro as her husband Henry, and Patrick Alparone as son Chris. The main thrust of “Tulips” (performed with a detailed staging that could gain in being trimmed down) focuses on the relationship of Olive to her devoted Henry to whom she shows dutiful affection and son Chris whose marriage to a flighty Suzanne separates them. When Henry’s stroke occurs, Olive, estranged from her husband, faces loneliness accentuated by Chris’ departure to California. Her life now consists of watching her tulips blowing in the wind, visiting an immobile Henry in a rest home, and taking six mile walks along the river.

Actress Patricia Silver and stage director Joel Mullennix’s power to move spectators lies in the realistic and masterful portrayal of Olive’s heartbreaking loss of her lifelong partner and her carefree son that drive her to depressed suicidal feelings. Olive’s psychological state, sensitively and profoundly depicted without sentimentality or melodrama, incites spectators to empathize with the protagonist’s hollow retired life and reflect on their own lives.

All the actors animate the narrated prose so well that one is not aware that their lines are directly repeated from the printed word until they say at the end of a line “he said or she said.” Among other cast members who enliven the text are Jeri Lynn Cohen as nurse Mary Blackwell, Michelle Bellaver as Suzanne Kitteridge, Nancy Shelby as the affected eccentric neighbor Louise Larkin, and Warren David Keith as Jack Kennison, Olive’s gentle male widower companion.

Director Joel Mullennix and scene designer David Szlasa create an intimate and less hollowed stage space than the preexisting one by seating audience members on both sides of the stage and playing parts of the action among these spectators. Costumes (especially that of Olive in the same old coat sweater) by Laura Hazlett, lights by Jim Cave and sound by Tucki Bailey all are well suited to the characters and action.

This unique company, now with a permanent address at Z Space and that has staged classic and contemporary fiction since 1993, has once again weathered the challenge to animate the written word and continue its wizardry in admirably bringing literature to the stage.

Olive Kitteridge extended to Oct. 10th.Info: 800-838-3006 or visit www.Zspace.org. Dr. Annette Lust

Zero to 90 in 90 Minutes

Zero to 90 in 90 Minutes is a smorgasbord of Short Plays and Monologues written by four smart Bay Area women—Linda Ayres-Frederick, Joya Cory, Ruth Kirschner and Naomi Newman. These plays most of which won awards at the 2009 Fringe of Marin just won the Best of Fringe Best Plays Award at the 2010 SF Fringe Festival.

My particular favorites were the three plays which were previously performed last fall at the 2009 Fringe of Marin Festival. First Place would to go Gussie and Sam, written and directed by Naomi Newman. This prize-winning play is a serio-comic look at two senior citizens facing the challenge of living in a nursing home. Performed expertly by Linda Ayres-Frederick and Paul Gerrior, the audience was roaring with laughter with tears. This play really has depth. Wabi Sabi by Ruth Kirschner and beautifully directed by Linda Ayres-Frederick is a hilarious comedy about four neurotic strangers whose lives unwillingly intersect at a bus stop. Delightful performances are given by the entire cast—Juliet Tanner, Heidi Wolff, Linda Ayres-Frederick and Bruno Kanter. This play was the winner of the Marin Fringe Festival Best Play Award in 2009 (directed by Penny Wallace). Linda Ayres-Frederick is amazing! She also wrote and performed Googling for Gerson, a poignant, award-winning monologue about a Hispanic grandmother who helps purchase a prosthesis for her grandson who has just returned from the war.

Other plays on the program include another play written and directed by Linda Ayres-Frederick called Waiting in the Victory Garden. In a time of war, a young bride wonders if her new husband will survive his deployment. Featured players include Juliet Tanner, Heidi Wolff and Paul Gerrior. This play was previously performed at the 2007 Bay Area One Act Festival at the Eureka Theatre. Ruth Kirschner wrote a wonderful monologue called 15 Notes directed by Linda Ayres-Frederick and featured Heidi Wolff who gave a sadly hilarious performance as Arley Levine Wright who is trying to write a simple thank you note to the doctor who has been caring for her dying father.

Last but not least was The Most Beautiful Showgirl in the World by Janet Johnston and Joya Cory, directed by Maureen Studer. Joya gives a stunning performance as Elayne, an aging showgirl. Then immediately before our eyes, Joya transforms herself into Irma in Irma at the Movies, which she also wrote, in which Irma fights a panic attack at the movies.

I would also like to give credit to Jan Carty Marsh for her outstanding work in lighting and sound effects.

Zero to 90 in 90 Minutes will be performed at the “Best of Fringe” on Oct. 1 and 2 at the Exit Theatre on 156 Eddy Street, on Oct. 1 and 2. For info call 415-931-1094 or visit www. sffringe.org. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Mamet’s Political Parody

Just in time for the mid-term elections, comes “November.” This 2008 farce by David Mamet concerns a U.S. President facing a bleak re-election campaign who must look to the turkey lobby to boost his sagging polls. Meanwhile, his speech writer has demands of her own to legalize gay marriage.

Ross Valley Players’ production stars Buzz Halsing as President Charles Smith who is staring at extremely low poll ratings. In order to fund his presidential campaign, he seizes an opportunity to extort $200,000,000 from the Turkey Producers of America by threatening to give a speech making a case for eating pork or fish on Thanksgiving instead. The play begins with Stephen Dietz as the President’s Chief of Staff, Archer Brown, trying to knock some political sense into his head. The President’s best hope for money rests with a turkey lobbying group, which is willing to pay substantial sums for the traditional presidential pardon of a Thanksgiving turkey. But they have unacceptable conditions which also cause problems for his lesbian speech writer Clarice Bernstein (LeAnne Rumbel), who wants the President to marry her and her partner before he leaves the Oval Office to make it legal.

The play then wraps up with a quick farcical moment including a Native-American lobbyist (Romulo Torres) who tries unusual methods to win some land for a casino, and gay marriage advocates score a win at the expense of several dead turkeys.

James Dunn, who directed the superb production of Glengarry Glenn Ross last year, also by Mamet, directs November with an ear for the musicality of the language. His smart staging elicits crisp performances from his entire cast.

November continues at Ross Valley Players through October 17. For tickets, call 415-456-9555 or go online at www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice directed by Phoebe Moyer from Nov. 12-Dec.12, 2010. Flora Lynn Isaacson

October 2010

Alice Childress’ Trouble in Mind Revived at the Aurora

For its 19th season the Aurora revives the 50’s play Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress depicting the prejudices of being a black actor on Broadway. A company of black actors, one white actress, and a white director and writer attempt to stage an anti-lynching play on Broadway. Trouble ensues when the main actress in the play within the play (“Chaos in Belleville”) Wiletta Mayer (vivaciously played by Margo Hall) refuses to play mother’s role as a stereotyped character who encourages her son to admit to a crime. The director ignores Wiletta and tells her to go on rehearsing without making more comments. Wiletta interprets the mother’s lines in a mocking tone and then suddenly ceases to act and bursts out to the director: “Would you send your son to be murdered?”

This line is the focal point of the play’s dramatic action that expresses the inhuman treatment of blacks by whites in forcing them to be portrayed as stereotypes and to abandon their struggle to own their dignity as well as bend to the superiority of the white man. Throughout the play there are a number of lines—often comedic— that refer to the conflict between whites and blacks. “White folks can’t stand happy negroes,” says one character that provokes laughter. Delivered comically these lines attenuate the playwright’s direct jabs concerning the racial tension of the era.

Playwright Alice Childress had already combated perspective producers of her play depicting colored actors on Broadway. After rewriting the play for two years because they refused her critique of the racism problem on Broadway and obliged her to make changes to muffle the truth, she withdrew her play.

Robin Stanton’s expert direction and the fine cast that brought the audience to a standing ovation were the most vital and strongest contributions to this production.

Childress’ 50’s play is highly relevant today in America, as well as globally, as it mirrors the struggle to combat racism and liberate those imprisoned by the shackles of prejudice.

Trouble in Mind plays until Sept. 26. For information call 1 510-843-4822 or visit www.aurora.org

Dr. Annette Lust

Sept. 2010

Speech and Debate

Teenagers Discovering the Truth About a Supposed Sex Scandal

What has such a dull title, Stephen Karam’s Speech and Debate, now undergoing its Bay Area Premiere at the Aurora Theatre’s 18th season, got to do with the play’s content concerning a sex scandal? Not until we see the play do we understand a threesome of maladjusted teenagers’ efforts to comprehend and eventually bring freedom of expression and tolerance related to a town sex scandal by starting a club entitled Speech and Debate. They hope that this will allow them to be heard as they probe into the details of how Salem, Oregon’s mayor became involved with a blonde male student at their school. In addition, Drama Queen Diwata, who started the club with openly gay Howie and school journalist Solomon, also promotes her musical, which lauds sexual freedom. At one point in the musical they disrobe, Diwata wearing a nude body stocking, and the boys in their underwear that hilariously brings the house down.

As they grow closer, the play appears to revolve around the threesome’s findings about themselves and their own sex lives - how does it supposedly bring solutions about what it means to be an adult? Do these teenagers probing into their own acts bring about a clearer understanding of the reasons for adults’ actions? One leaves the show believing these teenagers’ persistent third eye has clarified, to the point of understanding and forgiving the doings of adults. As bothersome as they can be, their sincere attempt to understand themselves and their roles in respect to another generation may, by the same token, enlighten adults.

Director Robin Stanton handles the confining use of space at the Aurora and carefully balances the placement of her characters in each scene in which the actors successfully play to the audience on three sides at a fast moving pace that befits the energy of teenagers.

Jayne Deely as Diwata creates a clever go-getter teenager who makes the action go round by luring the two unwilling males into making her club survive and her musical recognized. Even when she begins to succeed, she never abandons her teenage critical perspective about how the media misunderstands her innovative aspirations. Jason Frank’s “comme il faut” or proper allure renders his Solomon a serious, justice-pursuing character who ends up adapting to the craziness of his adventurous partners. Maro Guevaro, who was a Fine Arts major and is a freelance graphic designer, created an intriguingly dramatic portrait of a repulsive gay interested in nothing else except searching for a sex partner. Hodi Hornlien offers a good characterization of a conventional adult teacher and reporter that contrasts with the youthful mentality of the threesome.

The use of such projections as a café to clarify that the table and a chair before us is in that café on screen, or to show typical scenes of American life, seems unnecessarily distracting.

Although some critics devaluate the play as being a series of light TV sketches with trite content and no solid dramatic conflict, while it is highly comical and entertaining, it also provokes serious thought about how today’s teenagers can bring a breath of fresh air to alleviate the social constrictions of today’s adults.

Speech and Debate plays until July 18th. For info and tickets call 510-843-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org. Dr. Annette Lust

50th Anniversary of the Fantasticks

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Fantasticks is re-imagined in a world devastated by Global Warming to bring new resonance to its theme of hope and of facing the truth before one can grow.

SF Playhouse Artistic Director Bill English’s approach is to set this fable of love in a post-environmentalcollapse landscape designed by Nina Ball. It isn’t clear that his concept adds much to this 50th Anniversary production that opened Saturday, June 19. However, English’s staging as always is playfully charming.

The story of the Fantasticks is by author and lyricist Tom Jones. Harvey Schmidt’s pleasant score is played by the by accomplished Music Director Robert Moreno with a solo piano. The simple allegorical story features elements of traditional musical theatre, commedia dell’arte and vaudeville. The show begins and ends with a familiar “Try to Remember” sung by the entire cast and led by Tarek Khan who plays El Gallo. He has a smooth and resonant baritone and masterfully commands the stage with his voice and his sly comedic timing.

Sepideh Moafi plays The Girl (Luisa) and Jeremy Kahn plays The Boy (Matt) who fall in love. Sepideh Moafi’s delightful Luisa steals the show whenever she’s onstage. Jeremy Kahn’s haircut and his infectious grins captures his innocence.

Louis Parnell is Matt’s father Hucklebee, and Joan Mankin is Luisa’s mother Bellomy, at times comrades in a plot to trick their children into marrying, and at other times, enemies. These two wonderful comedians will play off each other as well as harmonizing and sharing with each other their frank irritation and exasperation with their children.

Ray Reinhardt stands out as Henry, The Old Actor, a flamboyant, befuddled thespian, whose faithful sidekick is Yusef Lambert as Mortimer, the Man Who Dies. Their slapstick episodes brought much laughter to the audience. Norman Munoz plays The Mute, deftly on hand to provide props and create the mood or a wall when needed. 

Costumes by Nina Ball were particularly effective and imaginative as was her apocalyptic ruins of a set. Barbara Bernardo’s choreography of Mankin’s and Parnell’s dance routines is a sheer delight.

The Fantasticks will have a long run at SF Playhouse until September 4, 2010. For tickets, call 415-677-9596 or go online at www.sfplayhouse.org. Coming up next at SF Playhouse on October 2 will be the Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Love and Revenge at Porchlight Theatre Porch Light Theatre Company opened their 10th Anniversary Season in Ross on June 19 with “Les Liaisons Dangereuses adapted by Christopher Hampton. Co-directors were Ann Brebner and Ken Sonkin.

Adapted from a 1782 novel written in the form of a series of letters, by military strategist, Choderlos de La Clos. This play is a study in strategy, intrigue and cruelty. The plot focuses on the Marquise de Merteuil (Tara Blau) alternating with Anne Darragh) and the Vicomte de Valmont (Nick Sholley), rival who use sex as a weapon of humiliation and degradation all the while enjoying their cruel games. There targets are the virtuous (and married) Madame de Tourvel (Rebecca Castelli) and Cecile de Volanges (Kelly Elizabeth Anderson), a young girl who has fallen in love with her music tutor, the Chevalier Danceny (Eric Rhea).

In order to gain their trust, Merteuil and Valmont pretend to help the secret lovers so they can use them later in their own treacherous schemes. A complicated unfolding of interconnected and self serving schemes and betrayals ensues with reputations ruined and negative outcomes for all. The climax of the play boasts a sword fight between Valmont and Danceny which is noted for its excellent choreography.

Rounding out a strong cast of supporting players includes Molly Noble as Cecile’s mother Madame de Volanges, Candace Brown as Valmont’s understanding Aunt, Madame de Rosemonde, Thais Harris in an exceptional performance as Emilie, a courtesan and Don Wood as Azolan, Valmont’s servant.

The action of the play takes place during one autumn and winter in 1785 in various salons and boudoirs in and around Paris that are the sumptuous rooms of pre-Revolutionary France. Set Designer, Ron Krempetz gives us a turquoise background with a pink floor containing a green square at the center with a blue diamond in the middle. Costume Designer, Todd Roehrman deserves a great deal of credit for his lush, period costumes of the gloriously attired aristocrats. 

Les Liaisons Dangereuses plays through July 10, 2010 at the Redwood Amphitheatre at the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. For tickets call 415-251-1027 or www.porchlight.net. Flora Lynn Isaacson

ACTORS WANTED FOR BAY AREA AUDITIONS OF THE 26th FALL FRINGE OF MARIN FESTIVAL-AUGUST 24/25. SHORT PLAYS CONSIDERED FOR UPCOMING FRINGE OF MARIN FESTIVALS For info call (415)-673-3131 ( 10 a.m. to noon) or email jeanlust@aol.com.

July 2010

All My Sons Revived at S.F. Actors Theatre

Arthur Miller’s 1947 Tony Award winning play All My Sons, made into a popular film in 1948, opened on Friday May 15th at the S.F. Actors Theatre. The action takes place during World War II and centers around the Kellers and the Deevers who are neighbors living side by side and whose fathers in both families were involved in knowingly selling faulty airplane cylinders that caused the deaths of twenty-one aviators. The father of the Deever family has been imprisoned while, due to supposed illness, Joe Keller avoided being incriminated and imprisoned when the probing took place. Meanwhile Ann Deever, engaged to Larry Keller, at war overseas and feared to be to have been killed in action, is being courted by brother Chris Keller. The members of both the Keller and Seever families suspect Joe Keller’s guilt. Their probing of Joe Keller about not confessing and not making up for his act gradually unveils the playwright’s intention to write a play entitled “All My Sons” that offers a strong message about human responsibility

Centered on guilt and blame, material pursuits, and moral liability to society and other humans, the protagonist is finally brought to admitting that his act was immoral. As he reads a last letter from his son at war about his involvement concerning the death of the twenty-one aviators Joe Keller cries out “They were all my sons!” The playwright has ingeniously shared with the audience the revelation of the hero’s psychological and social condemnation that grabs and holds our interest throughout the dramatic action.

The actors in this production, directed by Joyce Henderson (who also plays Kate, Joe Keller’s wife) and Jonathan Musser as assistant director, live up to the challenge of portraying this intricate psychological conflict. Tandy Hurst is highly convincing as the clever and cowardly business man Joe Keller, who attempts to rationalize his immoral act until the end. Joyce Henderson as Kate Keller is the dynamic force around which most of the action takes place. Nahry Tak as Ann Deever in love with Chris Keller is played as a gentle unassuming young girl who quietly makes everyone aware of their moral responsibilities. Nicholas Russell offers a strong portrayal of the heartbroken son persisting to make his father amend his deed. Vlad Sayenko’s plays George Deever as a son embittered about his father’s imprisonment. Sue Baylis’ Larissa Archer is a cheerful, smiling young mother and the remainder of the cast, Eric Pederson as Dr. Jim Bayliss, and Phil Goleman and Linnae Caudy as Frank and Lydia Lubey create believable interpretations.

The Actor’s Theatre production of All My Sons captivates the viewer through a powerful revelation of truths that bring about high levels of dramatic tension involving moral and social conduct . It also incites a self examination of one’s own unethical actions that could affect others who are likewise “all one’s sons.”

All My Sons continues through June 26th. For info and tickets call 415-345- 1287. Dr. Annette Lust

Last Girl Standing at San Francisco Playhouse

A hit at last year’s Humana Festival, Allison Moore’s Slasher, that opened earlier this month at the San Francisco Playhouse, is a comedy-thriller about an actress cast as the final girl in a slasher flick only to find her outraged mom determined to shut the exploitative production down.

According to Artistic Director Bill English, “There is something truly unique about Allison’s feminist take on the ‘low budget horror genre,’ a field totally dominated by men and scandalously exploitive of women. By setting her protagonist’s coming of age story in the milieu of ‘schlock horror’ she puts a great spin on the struggle of a woman to forge an identity against impossible odds while skewering the macho world at the same time. Trapped between her mom’s knee-jerk feminism and her director’s lust for titillation, Sheena turns the tables on the power structure from within while being exploited by it.”

Slasher is set in a small town and focuses on a sad family consisting of a bitter crippled mom in a wheelchair (Susie Damilano), a brainy younger sister Hildy (Melissa Quine) and the older sister, the beautiful Sheena (Tonya Glanz), who works as a waitress in a bar called Buster’s for a minimum wage.

Set Designer Bill English cleverly moves the action back and forth from a construction area where low-rent filmmaker Mark Hunter (Robert Parsons) films his bloody scenes to the domestic living room where Sheena and Hildy are dominated by their mother, Frances, to the bar, and Mark’s hotel.

Robert Parsons excels as a sleazy director finding his next big star, the “Last Girl” for the movie in a bar (the Last Girl is the woman who will be killed last, therefore the one with the most screen time).Tonya Glanz, as the seemingly innocent blonde teenager, Sheena, is hilarious and impressive.  SF Playhouse co-Founder and Producing Director Susie Damilano plays Sheena’s demented mother Frances to the hilt.  Cole Alexander Smith is convincing as a young film student eager to work at any price.  Melanie Sliwka’s contributions are versatile as the other woman on the set, a cool t.v. reporter and a member of the Holy Shepherd League Church.  Jon Tracy is the director of the many short scenes which happen instantly, one after another.  This lively spoof on slasher films is both ambitious and brilliant.  

Slasher runs through June 5 at the SF Playhouse (www.sfplayhouse.org or 677-9596). Also running at SF Playhouse, Stage 2 is the Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry by William Bivins, directed by Bill English through June 12.

Coming up next at SF Playhouse from June 11-September 4 will be The Fantasticks by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt and directed by Bill English. Flora Lynn Isaacson

A Feminist View of Success

Set in 1980’s London, at the Top Girls Employment Agency, Top Girls by feminist playwright, Caryl Churchill, opened May 21st at Ross Valley Players. Top Girls tells the story of an ambitious career woman, Marlene (Loring Williams), who has just been appointed head of the firm. Her success moves between fantasy and realism, time and space, poverty and affluence as it reveals family secrets and sacrifice. Top Girls features a wonderful all female ensemble including Michelle Darby, Lina Makdisi, Carolyn Power, Susan Donnelly, Theresa Miller, Melissa Claire and Chelsea Stone. Director Cris Cassell has acccpmplished skillfully a difficult task of making these many characters come to life through their speech with a variety of dialects including upper class British, Scottish, japanese, Italian, Dutch, Cockney, and Suffolk.

Top Girls will continue to play through June 6th. For tickets call (415) 456-9555 or go on line at http://www.rossvalleyplayers.com. On Sunday, June 27th from 2:00p.m.-5:p.m. at the Barn Theatre, Marin and Art and Garden Center, Ross Valley Players will be celebrating their 80th Anniversary. At $28.80 a ticket, there will be a buffet with wine and scenes from RVP shows through the decades. Coming up next at Ross Valley Players from July 16th-August 15th will be The Middle Ages by A. R. Gurney directed by Billie Cox. Floralynn Issacson

June 2010

Berkeley Rep’s New Minimalist Musical: Girlfriend

The catchy title of Girlfriend in the recent world premiere of composer, lyricist, and playwright Todd Almond and Matthew Sweet (music and lyrics) directed by Les Waters sparks our curiosity early in the dramatic action and even more as the action continues and only two male students remain on stage to go see the same movie night after night.

And as the action continues there is little mention nor any appearance of a girlfriend except when Mike mentions that he has broken up with her. And aside from the songs both males sing and their dances there is a paucity of dramatic action and dialogue that when present is sparse. Yet it is that very paucity that feeds our curiosity and retains our interest throughout.

This minimalist dramatic action and dialogue is also what gives the music and lyrics their due. The music and lyrics of such pieces as “I’ve Been Waiting,” “We’re the Same,” “Your Sweet Voice,” “You Don’t Love Me,” “I Wanted to Tell You” from the 1991 album “Girlfriend” suit the youthful naiveté and the timid sweetness of these two young students in the early stages of their love affair.

Ryder Bach creates an irresistible, innocent, lovable child-like student waiting for an invitation from Mike (Jason Hite), a sports loving, conventional type student who surprises himself becoming attracted to Will.

Joe Goode’s youthfully vivacious choreography brings variety and dynamic movement to the more static moments of the characters’ fearful hesitation to approach one another.

David Zinn’s set likewise is minimalist. A sofa also represents seats in a car and a pull out bed.

Finally it may just be this minimalist dramatic action and dialogue and the banal simplicity of the lyrics that provide the very refreshing originality of Girlfriend.

Girlfriend plays until May 9th. For info call 510-647-2949. Or visit berkeleyrep.org Dr. Annette Lust

Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman A Relevant Melodrama

Directed by Aurora’s Barbara Oliver in the melodramatic style of the late nineteenth century, this new challenging version created by David Eldridge, retains the flavor of this genre and period.

The play opens with Borkman’s wife Ella ( Karen Lewis) and sister-in-law Gunhild (Karen Grassle), twin sisters, exposing the dramatic action in the salon while former prisoner Borkman (James Carpenter) is pacing the floor above the living the room.We learn that former rich banker Borkman has spent eight years in prison and five on the upper floor, like a sick wolf in a cage, estranged from his embittered wife after embezzling funds a la Bernie Medoff from his clients. To clear the family name Ella will engage their young son Erhart (Aaron Wilton) while the lonely and ill Gunhild also wants to lure the young man to live with her. But Erhart wants to free himself from their claws to live his own life and find happiness with the divorcée Fanny Wilton (Pamela Gaye Walker).

This character based, next to the last of Ibsen’s dramas, is considered one of his most fierce or barbarous. It offers a number of high voltage scenes such as the one in which a frail elderly Borkman angrily storms out of the house into the wind and snow to find the path to freedom. Each character is dynamically portrayed. James Carpenter’s Borkman is the stubborn, power hungry, self serving male who has sacrificed love in order to continue ruling over an imaginary empire of wealth. His wife Ella is the moral strong-willed spouse and his sister-in-law, the woman he once loved and gave up for power who is hardened because of losing Borkman, still finds compassion for him and has directed her love to his son Erhart. Jack Powell’s interpretation of Borkman’s sole friend Vilhelm brings some comic relief to the action as the eccentric poet. Aaron Wilton’s Erhart plays the youthful male in search of passion and happiness. Lizzie Calogaro interprets the simple minded maid and the naïve violinist daughter of Vilhelm .

Despite the use of an exaggerated theatricality in some parts of the production, the cast rises to the challenge to make the action relevant and the emotions believable and dramatically compelling.

Sets by John Lacovelli make use of every inch of the playing space and costumes by Anna Oliver lend period splendor to the ensemble.

John Gabriel Borkman continues through May 9th. For information call 510-843-4822 or visit aurorathatre.org Dr. Annette Lust

34th Annual Bay Area and Beyond Theatre Awards Ceremony

On Monday, May 3, 2010, the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle proudly hosts their 34th Annual Awards Ceremony to celebrate Bay Area theatre excellence during 2009. Awards will be given at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre Lobby for outstanding achievement during 2009 in: Touring, Over 300 Seat Theatres (Drama and Musical), 100-300 Seat Theatres (Drama and Musical) and Under 99 Seat Theatres (Drama and Musical).

The complete list of Nominees is at theatrebayarea.org/programs.

Representing the print and electronic media, the Circle will announce the winners of 37 Drama awards and 38 Musical awards from 250+ nominated actors, designers, productions, and more reviewed in 2009. Over 400 productions were seen in 2009 by the 23 Circle critics reviewing theatre from San Jose to Santa Rosa, San Francisco to Concord.

Following the economic disasters of 2002, the Circle’s corporate donations disappeared. And the theatre galas that had been an eagerly-anticipated annual event with 400-plus attendees became small invitation-only affairs for award winners only. But this year with the generous support of the Actors’ Equity Association (sponsor of this year’s event), the Circle once again invites the public to gather and celebrate! These parties are tremendous fun and feature an electric atmosphere of award hopefuls and appreciative theatre-goers. For one fun night only, the fourth wall is stripped away, and those amazing actors are up close and personal for elbow-rubbing and/or admiring from afar.

Actors’ Equity is the proud sponsor of the SFBATCC Awards. Actors’ Equity, which represents over 1000 professional stage actors and stage managers in the Bay Area, shares with the Critics Circle a common goal to support professional Equity theatres in order to improve the livelihood of the artists who work in those theatres.

All are invited to join the Circle in applauding the talented theatre folk who make magic on our local stages. In addition to presenting the Awards, there will be light refreshments and entertainment. Dress is business casual to formal. And, hey, there’s free parking.

34th Annual Awards Ceremony on May 3 (Monday, doors open at 6pm, awards begin at 7:30pm) at Palace of Fine Arts Theatre Lobby, 3301 Lyon Street, San Francisco. Tickets ($20) are available at brownpapertickets.com or may be purchased at the door the night of the event ($20 cash only). Tom Kelly and Dr. Annette Lust

May 2010

Preview :
The Little Prince

The popular Little Prince by Saint Exupéry, one of the most read and reread book by adults and children, combines the adventures of the Prince on his visit to the planet Earth with the wisdom of the author about how the characters the Prince meets waste their time on futile concerns. Rather we learn that “it is the time that we waste on other human beings that makes them so important.”

We first meet the Prince when the aviator, representing the author has landed his plane in the desert to repair it. The Prince questions the pilot as he does others characters he meets about their activities on Earth. Among them is the Business Man who is so busy counting the stars that he tells the Prince he cannot be disturbed. When the Prince meets the haughty King and mentions he likes sunsets, the King offers to order a sunset for him. The Prince, a keen observer of the vanity and folly of humans concludes that all of these grown-ups are strange beings preoccupied with superficial values. “it is only with the heart that one can really see; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” It is these human truths that we encounter throughout the story that make The Little Prince a work of compassion and depth.

The play, adapted from the French by Annette Lust, will be performed by Bay Area actors along with 11 other short pieces by Bay Area playwrights at The Fringe of Marin on weekends from April 16 through May 2 at Dominican University and in Santa Rosa on January 25th as well as later in other Bay Area venues.

Info: (415) 673-3131 or visit www.FringeofMarin.com. Dr. Annette Lust

34th Annual Bay Area Theatre Critics

The biggest theatre gathering of the year promises to be on Monday, May 3, 2010, when the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle proudly hosts its 34th Annual Awards Ceremony to celebrate Bay Area theatre excellence during 2009. Awards will be given at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre Lobby for outstanding achievement during 2009.

The complete list of Nominees is at theatrebayarea.org/programs.

Representing the print and electronic media, the Circle will announce the winners of 37 Drama awards and 38 Musical awards from 250+ nominated actors, designers, productions, and more reviewed in 2009. Over 400 productions were seen in 2009 by the 23 Circle critics reviewing theatre from San Jose to Santa Rosa, San Francisco to Concord.

Following the economic disasters of 2002, the Circle’s corporate donations disappeared. But this year with the generous support of the Actors’ Equity Association (sponsor of this year’s event), the Circle once again invites the public to gather and celebrate in a fun and electric atmosphere of award hopefuls and appreciative theatre-goers.

Joining the Circle 23 years ago, I can attest that we are a wide-ranging bunch of strong personalities who span about a 50-year age range with 15 male and 8 female critics who all concur that there’s an outstanding variety of theatre excellence throughout the Bay Area to be recognized and celebrated.

All are invited to join us in applauding the talented theatre folk who make magic on our local stages. In addition to presenting the Awards, there will be light refreshments and entertainment. Dress is business casual to formal. And, hey, there’s free parking.

Tickets are on sale now! 34th Annual Awards Ceremony on May 3 (Monday, doors open at 6pm, awards begin at 7:30pm) at Palace of Fine Arts Theatre Lobby, 3301 Lyon Street, San Francisco. Tickets ($20) are available at brownpapertickets.com or may be purchased at the door the night of the event ($20 cash only). Tom Kelly, Annette Lust

A Star Is Born in COM’s Hamlet

David Abrams stars as Hamlet at the College of Marin. He is audible and natural in his every speech. 

His Hamlet is not mad for a single moment, he is playing mad. At the outset, the Prince is depressed by his father’s death, his uncle’s election to the throne, and his mother’s remarriage. Under the circumstances, his melancholy is not excessive. Not until he meets his father’s Ghost (Charles Isen) has he the slightest inkling that his Uncle Claudius (David Kester) has committed murder and his mother Gertrude (Molly Noble), adultery.

She has no knowledge of her present husband’s crime, though of her innocence, Hamlet is not certain.

This sold-out play is superbly directed by James Dunn, a veteran director at the College of Marin for 45 years. Dunn has a wonderful cast which includes David Kester (Technical Director for Fringe of Marin Festival) in a magnificent performance as Claudius, a foe well worthy of Hamlet’s steel, Molly Noble in a regal and sympathetic portrayal of Gertrude, Ian Swift as a professorial Polonius, Hamlet’s late father’s senior counselor, and Ariel Harrison as Ophelia, daughter of Polonius and in love with Hamlet, who goes from a giggling schoolgirl to a really sexy mad scene.

This sold-out production closed March 21 could stand a longer run so more people could enjoy it. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Den of Thieves Hits the Jackpot

In the hands of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, Director Susi Damilano, and a talented cast, Den of Thieves is a very entertaining two hours of theater. This clever comedy that opened March 13 is a crime-caper tale crossed with a 12 step program satire to often hilarious effect.

Maggie (Kathryn Tkel) is a shoplifter looking to change her life. Paul (Casey Jackson) is her sponsor in a 12 step program. Flaco (Chad Deverman) is her charismatic, but jealous, drug-dealing ex-boyfriend.

Boochie (Corinne Proctor), Flaco’s girlfriend, is a topless dancer. When this unlikely foursome band together to steal $750,000 in unprotected drug money, they become prisoners in a mob boss’ (Joe Madero) basement. Told they have until sunrise to choose one person to die and three to donate their thumbs, the four engage in verbal gymnastics as they struggle for self awareness and self acceptance in a highly energized battle for survival with organized criminals, little Tuna (Ashkon Davaron), Sal (Peter Ruacco) and Big Tuna (Joe Madero). 

Den of Thieves through April 17 | SF Playhouse. Tickets 415-577-9596 or at sfplayhouse.org. Next: “Slasher” by Allison Moore, April 28-June 5. Flora Lynn Isaacson

The Boys Next Door

Tom Griffin’s 1984 play, The Boys Next Door is about four mentally challenged men in a group home.

The first person we meet is Arnold, played by David Yen whose disabilities include being excessively neurotic, always wanting to set up a plan, and being easily distracted. The next roommate is Lucien, played by Wendell H. Wilson, mentally retarded with the maturity level of a 5 year old. We next meet the Social Worker, Jack, very well played by Timothy Beagley in his portrayal of the turmoil inside of himself, who comes to visit the boys. The third roommate we meet is Norman, played by Josh List, who is given the donuts that were not sold at a local donut shop. His character had the most interaction with others outside the household. There were a few scenes at the weekly dance facility, and he was able to fall in love with Sheila, charmingly played by Monique Sims. The final roommate of the group is Barry in a stellar performance by Brook Robinson who sees himself as a golf pro. We see him slip through reality as he interacts with different people. A scene between Barry and his father, played by Jeff Garrett, was very emotional and life-changing for Barry. 

Continues through April 18 at Ross Valley Players Barn Theatre. Tickets, 415-456-9555 or visit www.rossvalleyplayers.com.Coming up next: Top Girls May 21-June 20. Flora Lynn Isaacson

April 2010

A First Class First Grade

Under the guise of a light comedy, Joel Drake Johnson’s The First Grade that opened on Jan. 28th at the Aurora, develops both a humorous and heart wrenching description of the disconnect in today’s family life. Although the audience is kept laughing non-stop by the witticisms of leading lady—first grade teacher Sydney (performed with authority and dry humor by Julia Brothers) and the sarcasm of her daughter Angie (Rebecca Schweitzer) and husband Nat (Warren David Keith), we cringe over the realistic revelations the author offers concerning the inability of family members to connect emotionally.

The dramatic conflict centers around Sydney’s pride over her little students learning sophisticated words beyond their age. In this production Sydney praises the audience members as if they are her students. During a meeting with a physical therapist (Tina Sanchez), Sydney’s questions make the therapist burst out crying. Sydney then returns home to face a depressed daughter who drugs her child with Ritalin and deals with her divorced live-in husband both of whom blame her for their fate. A surprise visit by her therapist brings on the play’s dramatic climax.

Tom Ross’ expertise as a stage director builds to the dramatic climax with light humor that turns to more grave matters with the therapist’s visit. Sets by Nina Bell, lights by Jarrod Fischer and wardrobe by Alicia Coombes bring out the contrast between the cheerful elementary school ambiance and the estranged atmosphere of Sydney’s home.

The First Class may come off as a silly sitcom to some, but Johnson’s blunt portrait of the disintegration of family life prompts the spectator to reexamine the lack of communication that complicates marital and family life.

Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman plays at the Aurora April 2-May 9. For info 510-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org. Dr. Annette Lust

Animals Out of Paper—An Origami Tale

This West Coast Premiere by Rajiv Joseph and directed by Amy Glazer at the SF Playhouse couldn’t be more beautifully acted and staged. When Animals Out of Paper begins with an imaginative set by Bill English, we are in the cluttered studio apartment of Alana Andrews (Lorri Holt) an Origami artist who has cut herself off from the world. Her marriage is over and her dog has disappeared and she can’t get back to folding.

Andy (David Deblinger), a high school math teacher, amateur “folder” and doting fan invades her seclusion with a proposition to take a particularly brilliant student of his, Suresh (Aly Mawji), a calculus genius with an uncanny talent for origami who is grieving the sudden death of his mother. Origami is a metaphor for the feelings of loss that Alana and her new protege suffer. Paper, as the characters discuss, is irrevocably altered as it is folded. It will never again be what it once was. Folds leave scars, just as losses do. 

According to SF Playhouse Artistic Director Bill English, “Three souls; an innocent boy, a teacher afraid of life, and an origamist frozen by the scars of too many folds meet at a crossroads and each takes from the other, something that makes it possible for them to move on.”

Lorri Holt gives an engaging and multi-layered performance as the protagonist, Alana. David Deblinger’s Andy is an example of the power of positive thinking with the book of blessings he has been carrying around since he was 12, carefully recording all his blessings. So far, he’s counted 7000 blessings.

Aly Mawji is quite convincing as the origami genius and troubled hip hop kid. He got quite an applause with his verbal origami of hip hop rhymes.

At the helm of this production is Director Amy Glazer who directs her talented cast to bring Joseph’s quirky characters to life with dynamic conviction. Remarkable playwright, Rajiv Joseph reminds us that we are all animals made out of paper: our hopes tenuous and our happiness fragile.

Up next at SF Playhouse will be Den of Thieves by Stephen Adley Gurgi , March 10-April 17. Tickets, 415-677-9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org. Flora Lynn Isaacson.

Fabrik: A Norwegian Holocaust Talescene from Fabrik

Inspired by Nordic and Yiddish folktales, Fabrik: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz uses hand-and-rod puppets, masks and original music to tell the story of Moritz Rabinowitz, a Polish Jew who immigrated to Norway at the turn of the century in order to escape Pogroms and persecution.

By the end of World War I, Rabinowitz had risen from poverty to become one of Norway’s leading men’s clothing manufacturers and began writing articles to combat the post-war rising tide of anti-Semitism at home and nearby Germany. He was one of the Nazi’s first targets when they took on Norway in 1940 and he died beaten to death in a concentration camp.

When the story begins, Moritz appears before his yellow and black advertisement on a black stage surrounded by his three puppeteers—Peter Russo, Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock. All are attired in black pinstripe suits with black shirts, ties and fedoras. The black on black arrangement brings the essence of a European cabaret in the 1930’s. But Moritz, by contrast, is nattily dressed in an ivory suit, tie and hat, evidently of his own design. He introduces himself with a song and dance, advertising his wares and professional wisdom.

Early scenes of Moritz at work or in bed with his wife possess a warm humor. But gradually, beginning with an imaginative dream sequence, in which Moritz swims through an aqueous environment, hunted by a shark-like Hitler, the mood begins to shift. As the holocaust deepens the tableaus become more expressionistic and nightmarish.

Fabrik: the Legend of M. Rabinowitz continues though February 28 at The Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida St., SF. For tickets, call 415-292-1233 or go online at tjt-sf.org.

Coming up next at The Jewish Theatre will be Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? written and performed by Josh Kornbluth from April 8-May 11, 2010. Flora Lynn Isaacson

March 2010

Coming Home, A Storytelling Delight

Award winning playwright Anthol Fugard’s Coming Home that opened at Berkeley Rep on January 20th is a delightful adventure into storytelling based on the memories of the South African Veronica, her deceased father, and Alfred, a family friend. And beneath the lyricism of these stories is a powerful message about social injustice. After Veronica leaves the small South African town where she cares for her father (played by Lou Ferguson) to realize her dream in the big city, penniless and ill with AIDS, she returns with her little son (played by Kohle T. Bolton when younger and by Jaden MalikWiggins when older) .ten years later to the little shack where she had lived She is greeted by her family friend Alfred (wonderfully played by Thomas Silcott as the town fool), who will help her nurture her small son, whom she compares to a tiny pumpkin seed that will some day grow into a fine pumpkin. Memories of their past, of her father’s last days and of Veronica’s life in the big city are narrated and sung by Veronica (Roslyn Ruff singing and told with charm and dynamic stage presence), and by Alfred and the father’s ghost.

Well directed by Gordon Edelstein, Fugard’s magical storytelling gently transmits a relevant message that aims to bring about an awareness of the pitiful situation in South Africa and beyond of not providing for impoverished AIDS victims that has brought about the deaths of thousands. This is revealed convincingly through Veronica’s quiet and courageous persistence to resume the pursuit of her dreams for her young son to one day attend a university.

Coming Home wins us over by the poetry and wisdom of Fugard’s writing that at the same time awakens our conscience concerning one of the world’s worst plagues.

Coming Home plays through Feb 28th. Info 510-647-2949 or visit berkeleyrep.org. Dr. Annette Lust

Crossing the Borders: Aurélia’s Oratorio

Spectators at Berkeley Rep’s opening night of Aurélia’s Oratorio are from the start intrigued after a male voice on a phone insists that the female protagonist respond and then view an arm, a leg and finally a young woman‘s body emerging from the drawers of a dresser. They are still more stunned as, to the sounds of chamber music and gypsy jazz, the female performer swings across the stage on red streamers and performs acrobatics in the air, viewing the world upside down just as the audience does throughout the piece filled with illusionary images.

Aurelia’s Oratorio purposely defies the definition of the word oratorio, defined in Webster’s dictionary as a “lengthy choral work usually of a religious nature and consisting of recitatives, arias and choruses without action or scenery.”

Charles Chaplin’s daughter Victoria, who conceived and directed the piece, and granddaughter Aurélia, who stars in the piece, have not only continued the tradition of their father and grandfather’s silent film acting art. They have gone a step further to enhance that silent art by combining multiple theatre arts in an imaginative and original single theatrical form. As they tour across continents they readily reach audiences through mime, circus and acrobatic feats, dance, theatre of objects and illusions, puppetry and film. Their work provokes shock as well as delight..

Up next at Berkeley Rep is the West Coast Premiere of Athol Fugard’s Coming Home Jan. 15-Feb. 28. For tix and info call 510-647-2949. Dr. Annette Lust

Sweet Can’s Dance Theatre

Sweet Can, founded in 2006 by three teachers at the SF Circus Center, Beth Clarke, Kerri Kresinski, and Natasha Kaluza, has grown into a company of eight members with a mission to perform intimate circus, dance, acting and mime that interacts with the audience. In their recent second piece performed at the Dance Mission, there was a subtle underlying theme relating to our confrontation with a troubled world we can transform through our creative imagination and resources of everyday life. “Yes, Sweet Can, Can” is the company’s motto that reappears throughout the show.

This theme is portrayed at the start by four performers, directed by Wendy Parkman and Joanna Haigood, who survive the torrential effect of a devastating storm. In another scene Matt White buries his woes in an elegant dance with a broom which he woos with humor proving that interaction with everyday objects can lift our spirits.

Comical improvisation: the players race to sit on blocks and another scene tap-dancer’s bodies are covered with trash cans. Some sections are more virtuoso in style: Beth Clarke’s breathtaking slack rope and balancing of cups, Matt White’s stick balancing, Kerri Kesinki’s stunning aerial acrobatics, and Natasha Kaluza’s dizzy hula hooping. These scenes are performed to the brilliant notes of Eo, a master composer playing live music on stage with the company.

Sweet Can’s blend of clowning, acting, dance, mime and live music punctuated by acrobatic skills has opened doors and crossed artistic borders to reimagine circus as an art.

For information about Sweet Can’s future productions, visit sweetcanproductions.com. Dr. Annette Lust

She Stoops to Comedy— Gay Romp at SF Playhouse

SF Playhouse opened the West Coast Premiere of “She Stoops to Comedy” a playful gender-bending comedy by one of New York’s most innovative writer/performers David Greenspan. Set in a summer-stock production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” actress Alexandra Page (Liam Vincent) schemes to woo back her estranged female lover by playing Orlando (who everyone knows is a man) opposite her lover Alison’s (Sally Clawson) Rosalind.

Under Mark Rucker’s inspired direction, the excellent cast enlivens Greenspan’s script. Liam Vincent delivers his lines with perfect dry wit. Sally Clawson as Alison enacts her character’s wish that an actor be more relaxed. As Director Hal and his assistant, Eve, Cole Alexander Smith and Carly Ciotti provide comic relief from the intensity of the lovers. Two people steal the show, Scott Capurro (who does an amazing monologue) as Simon Languish, an aging homosexual and Amy Resnick playing two characters in conversation with each other—one the very butch Kay Fein, an archaeologist and lighting designer and the other a vain, pretentious actress, Jane Summerhouse.

Artistic Director Bill English provides a great set. Kurt Landisman’s lights were fantastic, and Valera Coble’s costumes, imaginative. Of course, without the inspired directing by Mark Rucker, this play would not be as compelling.

Next at SF Playhouse on Jan 23 will be Animals out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph directed by Amy Glazer. Tickets: 415-677-9596 or go online at www.sfplayhouse.org. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Three Sisters at the SF Jewish Theatre

In a posh home in Queen Ann’s Gate, London in the early 1990’s, Sara Goode, a twice divorced bank executive, hosts a family reunion in celebration of her 54th birthday. Sara seems more successful than her two younger sisters, with a successful career and an involvement with a distinguished member of the British peerage (Victor Talmadge).

Meanwhile, Pfeni, the youngest 40 year old sister, is enjoying her travel writing career though her life is bit embroiled in an affair with a bisexual theatre director, Geoffrey (a flamboyant Cassidy Brown). Finally, Gorgeous, who seems to have it all in the marital department, is struggling to carve out a career as an on-air advice columnist.

The three sisters know where they’ve been but are less clear on where they are and where they are going—a condition echoed in the world around them as Communism fails and Capitalism struggles to fill the void. That is a struggle in which Sara’s daughter Tess (Sarah Schwartz) is about to involve herself firsthand, smitten as she is with a young Lithuanian ex-patriot (Matt Hooker) who wants to return to his homeland to witness its liberation.

Mervin (Dan Hiatt), a Zionist furrier, drops by and throws in a wrench to Sara’s well-ordered existence.

Director Aaron Davidman assembled a fine ensemble.

Coming up at the Jewish Theatre: Fabrik; the Legend of M. Rabinowitz, Feb 4-28, at 470 Florida Street. Info: 415-292-1233 or www.tjt-sf.org. Flora Lynn Isaccson.

February 2010

Fat Pig : Telling Comedy About Obesity

Neil Labute’s Fat Pig grabs you from the start because of its witty and cutting repartee between Tom, his newfound fat girlfriend Helen, his protective friend Carter, and jealous ex girlfriend Jeannie. But this highly comical repartee gradually turns to a dark side when the truth behind the playful and at times biting sarcastic dialogue concerning Tom’s choice of a girlfriend his peers liken to a “fat pig” begins to affect his feelings for Helen.

When Tom meets the portly librarian, Helen, at a fast food restaurant and her friendliness prompts him to share her table, he is soon drawn to her frank unconventionality. They begin dating and develop a very private relationship deprived of the inclusion of Tom’s friends or others. “This little pig stayed home” is an increasingly disturbing rhyme to Helen. For, although Tom is falling in love with Helen and feeling liberated and happy with her spontaneous and open-minded nature, he harbors a growing concern about her physical appearance.

Labute’s so-called comedy about obese people not only contains a revealing truth about society’s condemnation of oversized women or men. It goes a step further to present the power of social prejudice and the failure to uphold one’s own choices in the face of conventionality. As the play progresses Tom begins to be seen as a coward for not being true to himself and not defending his right to love whomever. Will he choose to go with the flow of accepting what others think?

The two-fold conflicts render Labute’s Fat Pig dramatically powerful. And it is the playwright’s brutally truthful depiction of the hero’s dilemma that is not fully apparent until the play’s end that provides the piece with psychological and sociological meaning.

Directed by Barbara Damashek on a stage arranged in horseshoe style, the play moves at a rapid pace with a quick change of scenery and of clever costumes.

Liliane Klein is a charming Helen—only somewhat obese—that makes her role believable rather than farcical and in which her smile and vitality compensate for her obesity. Jud Williford is a disturbed, on the defensive main male protagonist, filled with hesitations about his final choices. Alexandra Creighton’s Jeannie is is a highly revengeful ex lover and Peter Ruocco mixes nosiness with wit as Tom’s friend’s Carter.

Labute’s Fat Pig as his other plays promote individual choice in order to preserve the entity of the human élan. Actually his downbeat critical style lends clarity and strength to our battles with the illusions and deceptions regarding the superficial pressures of social conformity.

At the Aurora Theatre through Dec. 6th. For information call 510-843-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org. Dr. Annette Lust

Communication Is Key To Saving A Life

As part of their 80th season, Ross Valley Players added The Miracle Worker by William Gibson as their second production. This is also the 50th anniversary of The Miracle Worker that premiered October, 1959.

Set in Alabama in the 1880’s, the play tells the real-life story of Helen Keller, a young blind, deaf and dumb girl who experienced an attack of scarlet fever. Unable to communicate with the world, she suffers fits of frustration and violent tantrums. Her desperate parents seek help from the Perkins Institute who send Annie Sullivan, a visually impaired young woman to tutor Helen.

Through kindness, persistence and forceful stubbornness, Annie finally breaks through the barriers that separate the frustrated Helen from the rest of the world and teaches the girl a method by which she can communicate with the people around her.

Director Linda Dunn skillfully directs her cast of twelve (including some adorable children) in a well paced natural clip. The flow is seamless. There are no weak actors.

Samantha Martin is a must-see young actress in the physically and emotionally demanding role of Helen. She balances relentless frustration with naive awakening. Samantha is Helen!

This play is truly the story of Annie Sullivan, who was the miracle worker. Megan Pryor-Lorentz gives Annie a dichotomy of forthrightness and doubt, strength and vulnerability, courage and bravado, humor and drama. Lorentz is an actress who easily meets the many challenges of Annie.

Lauren Doucette (Helen’s mother) portrays a genteel, southern lady with a backbone when it comes to her child. Tom Reilly (Helen’s father) gives a strong performance as a newspaper publisher who possesses much power, both in the business world and his home. Brook Robinson (Helen’s brother) shows the clear growth of his character’s inner self. Karol Strempke gives a bossy performance as Aunt Ev who is a talkative woman who tries to be helpful. Mary Jane Baird as Viney, the servant in charge of the daily housework. Rounding out the cast is Ray Martin as Anagnos, Annie’s counselor at the Perkins Institute for the Blind. He places Annie in the Keller’s home as a governess for Helen. He is loving and kindly with Annie but can also be stern when necessary.

Set Designer Michael Cook and Lighting Designer Ellen Brooks arrange multiple areas representing indoor and outdoor space, clearly defined by an interior of the house and various exterior areas with variations of spotlights.

The Miracle Worker plays at the Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross through December 6. For tickets, call 415-456-9555 or go online at www.rossvalleyplayers.com. Flora Lynn Isaacson

The Wolf and the Shepherd Find Roots

The Jewish Theatre has just opened its first season under its new name with the World Premiere of Stateless: A Hip-Hop Vaudeville Experience.

Stateless begins with a narrator saying that “your story started long before you were born...” It was inspired by Wolf’s discovery of his own vaudeville heritage as a descendant of the Gebruder Wolf (Wolf Brothers), one of Germany’s more popular songwriting and performing duos for four decades until forbidden to perform by the Nazis in the 30’s.

The play’s loose plot revolves around Dan Wolf’s journey to Germany to reclaim the legacy of the Gebruder Wolf, a legend in Hamburg in the early 1900’s. Accompanying him is his best friend, Tommy Shepherd, a black, hip-hop artist, unable at this time, to embark on a similar search for roots.

Their journey pauses for comic repartee, song and dance and rapping. These two come at the audience with call and response, raucous claps, and foot stomps. And they have perfected their Marx Brothers style of comedic timing.

After Wolf discovers his roots in Hamburg, Shepherd—envious of Wolf’s success, laments he barely knew his own father, or great grandparents or where they originated. At this point, they take a detour to New Orleans for Shepherd to check into his African-American roots.

Co-performer Keith Pinto portrays an array of characters and works the turntable DJ during the hip-hop numbers. He also sings, dances and acts amazingly well. Director Ellen Sebastian-Chang has given us a hip-hop vaudeville experience as a fine way to represent a history of two cultures as the friends search for their roots.

I found Stateless to be very Brecht-ian in the use of cardboard signs on stage right and the use of videos on the back wall.

SThe results are mixed, though spirited performances from Dan Wolf, Tommy Shepherd and Keith Pinto keep Stateless fun and engaging especially for the young who can relate to the material more readily.

Stateless continues through Dec. 6 at the Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida St. Info and tickets, call 415-292-1233 or www.tjt-sf.org.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

December 2009

Tiny Kushner Shorts

Mirroring The American Experience at the Berkeley Rep.

Tony Kushner’s West Coast premiere of his Tiny Kushner that opened in October at Berkeley Rep is in effect a “Big Kushner” regarding the panorama of contemporary American viewpoints the playwright is able to depict in five short acts. Presented from a fast paced East Coast perspective, the shorts are directed with the expertise of Berkeley Rep’s artistic director Tony Taccone.

The first play, Flip Flop Fly, catches the audience’s attention in its portrayal of two culturally opposing females, a popular young American song writer (played by a vibrant Valeri Mudek) and the sophisticated, exiled and deposed Queen Geraldine of Albania (authoritatively interpreted by Kate Eifrig) who meet on the moon after their deaths. We are reminded of Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit in which a lesbian, an attractive female, and a male survive side by side despite their differences. In Kushner’s play the women’s contrasting characters are presented in vaudeville style ending in a hilarious song and dance routine.

Veloren Sein or Ambivalence revolves around a gay patient (performed by an endearing J.C. Cutler) in love with his lesbian psychiatrist (Kate Eifrig), with their lovers Jim Lichtscheidl and Valeri Mudek hovering about their partners while the patient begs his unconvinced shrink to love him.

The third, a solo entitled East Coast Ode to Howard Jarvis, is brilliantly played by Jim Lichtscheidl who presents individuals from all walks of life who devise a scheme to prove they are exempt from paying taxes because they do not legally exist. This clever fantasy, although overloaded with details and never ending verbosity, has the audience racing to keep up with the narrator’s rapid delivery and quick change of characters.

In Dr. Arnold A. Hutschnecker in Paradise, we return to afterlife on the moon where a psychoanalyst (convincingly played by J.C. Cutler) complains to psychiatrist (Kate Eifrig) that he spends five days a week analyzing Richard Nixon. This amusing satire on psychotherapy revealing the character of Nixon is highly entertaining.

Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy revolves around Laura Bush in Paradise addressing three little Iraqi children who died with thousands of other children because of American aggression. Laura Bush, well interpreted by Kate Eifrig, tries too justify husband Bushie’s actions by condemning Saddam Hussein as a cruel dictator who needed to be overthrown. This piece has more of a moral tone than the four others in its implication of America’s tactics that caused the death of innocent children.

Kushner offers sharp perceptions of the American scene set in a fantasy of the afterlife depicting the fantastical aspects of psychoanalysis. Fantasy and truth about America experiencing a universe in peril presented on a light note is what renders Kushner a meaningful and profound recorder of our times.

Tiny Tony plays through Nov. 29. For info and tickets call 510-647-2949 or click on BerkeleyRep.org. Dr. Annette Lust

The First Day of School

When the kids are away, the parents will play. The San Francisco Playhouse just opened the World Premiere of The First Day of School by Billy Aronson to kick off its new season.

Susan (Zehra Berkman) and David (Bill English) meet outside an elementary school on the first day of school after dropping off their children. They begin by comparing notes on their kids new teachers. With a whole day to kill, they decide to fulfill a mutual fantasy and begin propositioning other parents. They introduce themselves by saying to a fellow parent, “Do you want to have sex with me?” The comedy takes flight by the reactions they get.

Susan begins by speaking to Peter, played by a flustered and neurotic Jackson Davis. David follows suit by speaking to Kim played by Marcia Pizzo as a righteous PTA activist, who turns him down. Next, David speaks to Alice played by Stacy Ross as an unapproachable, high powered attorney.

Scene II opens up into Susan and David’s comfortable living room beautifully designed by Bill English. Peter comes home with Susan and Alice comes home with David, and then much to David’s surprise, Kim also shows up. Peter, Alice and Kim seem to be very uptight to swing with Susan and David.

Scene III is again in Susan and David’s living room four years later where everyone is having lots of fun and this evidently has been going on the first day of school over the ensuing four years.

High school student actors Torie Laher and Myles Landberg show up, when the parents are upstairs as teens who stumble into the midst of things. Chris Smith’s smooth direction and his talented cast make the most of Aronson’s deft touch with comic situations.

Imaginative costumes suited to each character were created by Bree Hylkema and Kimberly Richards’ movement design.

In this fantastically funny new comedy by Billy Aronson I found myself continuously laughing out loud! However, our protagonists in The First Day of School yearn for a connection that will stave off their loneliness. They hurdle into sexual situations hoping to find something in the arms of others to sustain them in the empty world of conformity and daily routine. Theirs is an eternal quest and Aronson opens the skin of the mundane to expose longings we all understand.

First Day of School plays through November 7 For tickets, call 415-677-9596 or go to www.sfplayhouse.org.Up next at the San Francisco Playhouse will be “She Stoops To Comedy” by David Greenspan and directed by Mark Rucker, Nov. 18, 2009-Jan. 9, 2010. Flora Lynn Isaacson

November 2009

ROCK OPERA AMERICAN IDIOT HAS BERKELEY REP SPECTATORS ROCKING

Grammy Award winning Punk Rock Green Day’s album, American Idiot, released in 2004 and that led to the creation of the theatricalized version in the form of a rock opera, premiered at Berkeley Rep on September 16th to a rollicking, warm audience. Directed by Michael Mayer, the talented director of Spring Awakening, and choreographed by Steven Hoggett, the piece is comprised of nineteen actor/singers and a band on stage.

In this rock opera it is the theatricality of the lyrics that project a youth’s rebellious journey against his world and himself. Only a short recited line here and there supports the dramatic action. We are first introduced to the songs “.The American Idiot” and “Jesus of Suburbia,” sung by John Gallagher in the role of Johnny, Matt Caplan as Tunny, and Michael Esper as Will. At one point Johnny blasts out “ I forgot to take a shower,” a line used as a thread of the action later. In the next set of songs, Johnny and his buddies expose their malaise, the futility of their existence, boy/girl relationships, sex, a pregnant girl friend, drugs, violence, guns, death, and other adventures depicting their sordid demise. The ending songs of this dramatization of self destruction and the search for redemption are more mellow. “We’re Coming Home” and “Whatsername: bring the youthful exploits to a reassuring end. And as the piece draws to the final scene Johnny repeats the line “I forgot to take a shower!” suggesting his reconciliation with a more structured world and self .

Christine Jones creates a spectacular set of a warehouse with scaffolding and multiple T.V. video screens on a back wall that simultaneously change images along with brightly glowing strobe lights to suggest an electrifying atmosphere.

Costumes by Andres Lauer are causal togs worn by young people.

Although The American Idiot rock opera remains basically a brilliant collage of songs well fused together under the theme of youthful disillusion rather than an opera providing dramatic conflict and development of dramatic action and characterization, this rendition of angry and dissatisfied youth succeeds is pulling at our heart strings. Its popular success Is due primarily to the beautifully written lyrics, the masterful musical rendition, the high voltage energy of the singers, and the realistic and timely portrayal of disheartened youth.

American Idiot plays through November 1, For information call 510-647-2949 or click on HYPERLINK "http://www.BeerkeleyRep.org" www.BeerkeleyRep.org.

Dr. Annette Lust

PREMIERE OF DALE WASSERMAN’S “PREMIERE” OPENS RVP's 80th SEASON

The Ross Valley Players kicks off its 80th season with "Premiere"--the last play written by award-winning playwright Dale Wasserman.  Wasserman was the Tony Award-Winning author of the book for "Man of La Mancha" and the stage version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Author and Journalist, Abby Wasserman, niece of Dale Wasserman, brought this play to RVP.  According to her, "Dale's "Premiere is a rather old fashioned play. It is an intimate drawing room play perfectly suited to the Ross Valley Players' theatre. Premiere is marvelously lighter fare for my uncle. It is about a very successful comedy playwright who yearns to be a writer of serious plays. The story features a husband and wife that

Really love each other and has playfulness about it. This extremely personal play depicts Dale's thoughts and feelings about the theatre and theatre community woven throughout this play. He comments and makes fun of academics, authenticity, fakery and producers."

A famous comedic playwright, Gil Fryman (Ron Severdia) decides to prove to the world that he can write more than fluff and can be as universally accepted as Shakespeare.  So "The Tragedy of Alcibiades" is born.  Severdia is overly serious as befits a writer of comedy and adores his wife, Becky (Molly McGrath)  As Becky, McGrath is both lively and lovely, affectionate but unpredictable with a frivolous sense of humor.  Becky's father, Dr. Eli Brand as played by Wood Lockhart is both worldly wise and skeptical, just avoiding cynicism by virtue of his affectionate humor.  His son, Peter Brand (Edward McCloud) is a theatrical producer, though more accurately a dilettante with an avocation. The cast is rounded out by Buzz Halsing with a wonderful New York accent as Lefty Guggenheim, a highly ethical book forger with a love of language, and Judy Holmes as Professor Justinia Hawkins, who is very British and learned on the subject of Shakespeare.  

According to Director Robert Wilson, in this play Wasserman breaks the fourth wall and each character, with the exception of Professor Hawkins, has a wonderful monologue to the audience.  

Premiere plays through October 11.  For tickets or more information, call 415-456-9555 or visit HYPERLINK "http://www.rossvalleyplayers.com/"www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

PEN OAKLAND WRITERS' THEATRE PRESENTS A NIGHT OF SHORT PLAYS

Pen Oakland, a Bay Area Chapter of the International Organization of Poets, Essayists and Novelists. is an inter-racial group of about 20 members. They staged previews of three plays on September 13.. The first play, "The Boy, the Girl and the Piece of Chocolate" by Jack Foley directed by Lewis Campbell, the Drama Director at Performing Arts High School in San Francisco, examines how one piece of chocolate can

portray an entire relationship as the characters battle over who will eat the last piece. The cast includes the Boy played by Fabian Herd and the Girl played by Margery Bailey. In this short comedy, well directed by Lewis Campbell, the actors perform with variety and a sense of comic timing. They each end the play with a short poem. The Boy presents "Truly I Have Lost Weight, The Skeletal Event of Primality" and the Girl presents "Who Do We Fall In Love With If Not Ourselves."

The second play, "Firing Blanks At Moving Targets" was written by Doug Howerton and directed by Michael Lange, a faculty member at San Jose State University. This play follows the group "Move" in the 1970s in its opposition to the technological age and the cruelty of animals through inhumane procedures. John Africa, a revolutionary leader, played with revolutionary zeal by Charles Du Bios, and his revolutionaries (Move) take on Liberty and Justice with teachings from the radical anti-technology manifesto "The Book." Reggie James gives a strong performance as Daniel Cramel, a poet peacenik with his rendition of "A Crack In the Liberty Bell."

The final play, "The Trial of Christopher Columbus" by John Curl and directed by Kim McMillon, was set in Columbus' dungeon cell. This historical drama examines the explorer's misdeeds towards the Native American population, and recreates the events that took place in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and Dominican Republic) between 1492 and 1500. Kim McMillon. Along with a cast of ten Paul Abbott gives an especially moving performance as Columbus.

When these three plays are presented at Live Oak Park Theatre next weekend, a fourth play will be added, "The Remember Woman of Una," written and directed by Tennessee Reed. A supernatural, science fiction myth, this mystical one-woman show explores the Remember Woman of Una.

Performances of the PEN OAKLAND WRITER'S THEATRE will be held Thursday-Friday, September 17-18 at 8 p.m. at Live Oak Theatre in Berkeley, 1301 Shattuck Avenue at Berryman. Tickets are $7-$10 on a sliding scale. For info, contact www.penoakland.org.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

DEATH AND THE MAIDEN—A TOUR DE FORCE BY MARIN ACTOR’S WORKSHOP

Marin Actor's Workshop opened Death and the Maiden September 11, 2009 to a sold-out house with a standing ovation.  

September 11 is not only a dark day in the annals of infamy for the United States of America. It is an ominous day in Chile's history as well.  On September 11, 1973, Chile's democratically elected government presided over by President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a violent coup staged by General Augusto Pinochet and his allies in the American intelligence community. For years after, Chilean citizens were rounded up, tortured and many of them "disappeared" never to be seen again.  

Death and the Maiden is Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman's fictional creation of the dark days and years that followed 9/11/73.  To further commemorate the date, the play was published on September 11, 1991 and that is why September 11 was picked as opening night for the Marin Actor's Workshop production of this politically and emotionally charged play.  

Heather Shepardson gives an amazing performance as Paulina Salas Escobar, the heroine of Death and the Maiden.  Greg Land gives a sympathetic performance as her husband, Gerardo, a legal activist appointed to investigate thousands of people tortured and murdered in the 1970s in this South American country.  What a pleasure to see Terry McGovern act as Dr. Roberto Miranda, the man Paulina accuses of blindfolding and torturing her.  

I was bowled over by this taut and suspenseful production!  A lot of credit goes to Director Liz O'Neill and Producer Ken Bacon. I was very impressed by the news reel footage at the beginning to set the scene and the filmed concert at the end, the use of video of Miranda and the lighting and sound effects to create suspense.  There was not a dull moment! Run, don't walk to get tickets for Death and the Maiden at Marin Actor's Workshop.

There will be three more performances, September 18-20.  For information, contact HYPERLINK "http://www.marinactorsworkshop.com/"www.marinactorsworkshop.com or call 415-453-8858.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

October 2009

Twelfth Night
Around the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

Marin Shakespeare Director Leslie Currier in her opening speech to the audience mentions that Twelfth Night or All You Need Is Love is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by both herself and Robert Currier made into a musical version full of contemporary poetry and references.  They used about 40 tunes from the 1960s and 1970s including tunes made popular by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Sonny and Cher, Carly Simon and Bob Dylan. 

In Illyria, the most hip, far out, psychedelic place in the world, beautiful girls costumed in pink welcome us to the court of Duke Orseno (William Ellsman), where we find the despondent Orseno pining for the Countess Olivia (a glamourous Cat Thompson).  We meet Viola (the lovely Alexandra Matthew) who was washed up on the seacoast with the Sea Captain in a strong performance by Terry Rucker singing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”  Viola laments her twin brother Sebastian (Alex Curtis) whom she thinks has drowned in the shipwreck.  Viola disguises herself as a man and joins the service of Duke Orseno in order to remain safe. As Cesario she represents the Duke to convey his love to the Countess Olivia. However, the Countess falls hook, line and sinker thinking she is a man.
 Feste, a wandering clown and songster has returned to Olivia’s house with a guitar and sings many songs in an amazing impersonation of Bob Dylan!  His performance is balanced against the play’s weightier character, the abused haughty servant Malvolio (Jack Powell) remarkably performed by Jack Powell.

The plays other comic business is boisterously interpreted by Director Robert Currier as Sir Toby Belch and Camilla Ford as Sir Andrew Aguecheek with Shannon Veon Kase as a mischievous Maria.  This threesome is pivotal in providing this production with its lively pace. William Elsman is amusingly broad as Duke Orseno and Steve Budd is convincing and appealing as Antonio, the loyal sailor who befriends and helps Sebastian played with amazing dexterity by Alex Curtis. Cat Thompson gives a winning performance as Olivia and Alexandra Matthew has an intensity delightful to behold as Viola. 
 Imaginative costumes are by Abra Berman and Cynthia Pepper’s choreography is delightfully comic.  The psychedelic set by Mark Robinson with signs of peace and ying/yang adds to the flavor as does Billy Cox’s amazing sound design. 

For information about Julius Caesar playing at Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican University in San Rafael call 415-499-4488 or go online at www.marinshakespeare.org.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Happy Days by Samuel Beckett

Directed by Jonathon Moscone. At Cal Shakes in Orinda. Reviewed by Carol Dunne

Life can get sticky at times, where we find ourselves stuck in various situations that imprison us with the help of our own neuroses—our inability to let go of our various issues. We get stuck in various complicated situations like relationships or jobs; we can get bogged down in a house or books or furniture, the list is endless. In Beckett’s play Happy Days, we witness the quintessential metaphor where the main character is stuck in an enormous mound of dirt, it’s a veritable burial ground that’s slowly swallowing her up. Winnie cannot move from the waist up, she’s literally, figuratively and metaphorically “up to here in shit”. We relate to her as her imprisonment in this dirt seems so familiar. We feel her stickiness, her growing desperation, her denial of the horror of her situation as the dirt climbs higher and higher promising to eventually bury her.

The only thing that keeps Winnie going is her ability to speak. She babbles, filling up her days with noise and also with her daily habits like brushing her teeth and combing her hair. We see the reason for Winnie’s noise, it’s the ability, amidst the misery, to somehow keep up a “happy face”. We see that it’s the little things in life that keeps her going, the little joys, the small stuff that helps her through her days.

Dr. Patty Gallagher’s amazing performance is full of emotional power and conviction, she held us enthralled for the entire play as she expressed a huge range of emotion with only her face and portrayed layers of meaning with her eyebrows, her eyes, and her mouth.

Winnie conjures up our worst nightmares—an absurdist world where our lives are meaningless. She forces us to take a closer look at what we’re doing with our days; are we wasting our time on Twitter, endless emails and meaningless babble or are we writing that book, painting that picture and making our music. Are we leaving something behind—a legacy that will survive the burial ground that inevitably creeps up daily on our lives like a calming balm, till there’s nothing left but dirt.

Playing thru September 6th at Cal Shakes in Orinda. For information about future productions at Cal Shakes visit www.CalShakes.org


Theatre You Can Eat
Four Plays by John Robinson Directed by James Reese

Last Saturday evening I attended four short one-act plays under the heading “Theater You Can Eat” presented by The People’s Theatre. It was performed upstairs at the restaurant at Pena Pachamama on Powell Street in San Francisco.

There were four short pieces written by John Robinson; “Wake Up Cup”, “The Toss Up”, “Ceviche” and “Chocolate”. These short dramas were brought to life by four outstanding actors, Treacy Corrigan, Tim Hendrixson, Mary Knoll and John Patrick Moore, unfortunately, the writing left much to be desired. The performances were the best thing about these pieces as the writing seemed dull and lackluster.

The first piece “Wake Up Cup” was about what happens when you’re addicted to coffee and there’s a power outage first thing in the morning. A strange and neurotic married couple prattle on without the help of their morning java. They are forced to interact with their hippie, green, free spirit neighbors, and the comparison between the couples was the most interesting facet of this piece. Mary Knoll and Tim Hendrixson are excellent as the neurotic couple.

The second piece was called “The Toss Up” about a cooking competition and some fabulous salad dressing.

“Ceviche” was the third piece about a couple in Peru tasting the local Ceviche dish—a raw fish dish that is marinated in some wonderful sauce that “cooks” the fish. The last piece was called “Chocolate” and in this piece the actor Treacy Corrigan does an wonderful job as the secretary who is addicted to chocolate. These were excellent actors who all breathed life into these boring lines.

These short one-act plays are a call out to writers in the Bay Area, we desperately need some good writing so these outstanding actors can do their thing. Playing at Pena Pachamama in San Francisco through September 6th.

John Robinson’s one actWork of Art will be performed at the Fringe of Marin in November and December, 09 For information call (415) 673-3131 mornings 10 to 2 p.m.For information about forthcoming Theatre You Can Eat productions visit Theatre You Can Eat on line.
Carol Dunne

Robot’s Revenge Rocks Redwoods

Robot’s Revenge, a relevant pantomime, written by Dr. Annette Lust (Artistic Director of the Fringe of Marin for 23 seasons) was performed for a capacity audience at the Redwood Retirement Center, Mill Valley, Thursday, July 23, 2009.

Robot’s Revenge was masterfully directed by professional Russian Director Sasha Litovchenko from the Ukraine.  Pantomime is one of the most complicated forms of drama to direct as it relies strongly on body language. Sasha achieved amazing precision for each character’s movement.

Music specially composed for this production was by noted composer Aaron Jay Kernis and performed by pianist Evelyne Lust. There was a musical theme for the entrance of each character. First we have The Robot superbly performed by Erica Badgeley who won 2nd place honors for Best Actress at the Marin Fringe Festival. Johann Schiffer entered next with a strong performance as The Engineer who controlled The Robot. The Engineer’s Wife was delightfully portrayed by Christine Clemmons and Lauren Rigor rounded out the cast as a dignified Company President.

The Bay Area Theatre Critic’s Circle Awards for Best Play went to Robot’s Revenge on May 5, 2009.; Robot’s Revenge had a very clever curtain call and was enthusiastically received by the audience in the question and answer session in which they compared it to the silent movies.

Also on the bill was “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (abridged with an Ax) and adapted and performed by veteran Fringe actor Steve North. Steve North opened his presentation seriously reciting the Coleridge ballad dressed all in black. There were two darling children onstage, Jonah and Delphine who exhibited a great deal of stage presence as they stood with the Albatross. After the Ancient Mariner kills the Albatross, Steve North sheds the black coat, wears the Albatross around his neck and performs high comedy reminiscent of Steve Martin and he had the audience roaring.
Flora Lynn Isaacson

September 2009

Jack Goes Boating at the Aurora

The perfect play for a summer evening in Berkeley, opens on a couple of New York limo chauffeurs, Jack (Danny Wolohan) and Clyde (Gabriel Marin) discuss their work and a girl named Connie (Beth Wilmurt). Jack, who has just met Connie, is smitten with her, but the shy limo driver does not know how to go about pursing his dream.

Director Glaudini succeeds in turning a banal, old-fashioned dramatic action into an animated, highly comical one that holds our attention throughout. The simplicity and innocence of old-time values has the audience laughing at their naïveté and even rooting for their lily-white principles.

Jack’s realization of his dream comes at the end of the play when a rowboat descends from the ceiling — Jack and Connie climb in and row away, to a standing ovation.

Until July 19th. For info/tickets ($40-42 510.843.4822 or auroratheatre.org.

Dr. Annette Lust

“Romeo” Rocks Cal Shakes

As pop/rock rhythms energize the youth, Cal Shakes launches its 35th Anniversary with director Jonathan Moscone’s Romeo and Juliet, a modern-dress tragedy of a violence-wracked urban environment is a vivid, engrossing and energetic remounting of the familiar story.

The young lovers played with sincerity by Alex Morf and Sarah Nealis are most engaging in Act I a masterpiece from the opening of the play with Julian Lopes-Morillas’ regal Prince and a solid cast: James Carpenter and Julia Eccles as Lord and Lady Capulet, Catherine Castellanos, a bawdy nurse, Lady Montague, Catherine Castellanos and Jud Williford brilliant performance as Mercutio, L. Peter Callender as Romeo’s father, Dan Hiatt’s hopeful Friar Lawrence, Craig Marker’s slick Tybolt, and Liam Vincent’s “noble” Paris.

Info: Noel Coward’s Private Lives July 11 to Aug 2 at California Shakespeare Theatre 510-548-9666 or calshakes.org.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Unfulfilled Russian Dreams/Three Sisters

Porchlight Theatre Company presents Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” a story that takes place in the Russian countryside around 1901.

When the play opens, it is Irina’s (Thais Harris) 20th birthday. Officers from the local garrison sit around as Olga (Julia McNeal) the oldest sister, fusses with preparations for a party. The third sister, Masha (Tara Blau) dressed all in black, sits reading. Their brother, Andrei (Jon Wesley Burnett) stays in his room and plays his violin. All three live in their memories of a happier past or dream of a rosier future. The people they gather around them include Kulygin (Ryan O’Donnell), a schoolteacher, and Masha’s husband. Vershinin (Nick Sholley), the new officer in town, becomes Masha’s lover. Chebutkin, the aging drunken army doctor is played by John Mercer.

Rebecca Castelli plays Natasha, an upstart country girl who not-so-subtly takes over, after marrying Andrei. Craig Neibaur plays Baron Tuzenbach who has loved Irina for 5 years. Solyony, who also loves Irina, is played by Michael Barr, a social misfit.

There are wonderful cameos; Candace Brown as the family nursemaid, and Don Wood as a hearing-impaired porter. The two orderlies, played with much versatility by Lowell Weller and Jarrod Quon.

Director Susannah Martin seems well versed in Chekhov. She pays strict attention to the specific gestures of each character and demonstrates the importance of the unspoken word. Under her capable direction, all of the performances are like vignettes. Martin has put together a moving, funny and thought provoking production of Three Sisters.

Thursday-Sunday at 7 p.m. through July 11 at Redwood Amphitheatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, Ross. Tickets are $15-$25. Phone 415-251-1027 or porchlight.net

Beyond the Mirror

West Coast Premiere of Afghan Theatre of Exile and Bond Street
Theatre’s Beyond the MIrror at the S.F. International Arts Festival


In their West Coast appearance of their world wide tour of Beyond the
Mirror, the New York Bond St. Theatre, present the Afghan’s struggle
to survive three decades of military domination. To the accompaniment
of the gentle soft notes of the rubat, anAfghan ancient lute.

Beyond the Mirror begins with a video montage of beautiful Afghan snow-capped rolling hills and valleys, followed by scenes of quiet streets
and inhabitants peacefully shopping in market places. Soon frenzied scenes show soldiers and villagers running from bombs. Bond Street Theatre’s unique incorporation of multiple physical styles conveys its humanitarian issues. Searching for a universal
physical language, they have performed in international festivals, workshops and training in refugee camps and post-conflict areas. They are a company that is
making a difference.

Beyond the Mirror continues to tour nationally and internationally. For information bondst.org/activities/12/us-premier-of-beyond-the-mirror

Dr. Annette Lust

July/August 2009

You, Nero

In Amy Freed’s You, Nero, after meeting Scribonius (Jeff McCarthy), the playwright who will pen Nero’s life to present on stage, the audience immediately begins to rollick with laughter due to the provocative dialogue and content about the lascivious, power-obsessed Roman Emperor who calmly and shamelessly exterminated many of his citizens as well as his own mother. After the playwright meets with Nero (Danny Scheie) the latter requests that he write the story of his life in order to regain favor with the Roman citizens. We meet Nero’s despotic and ambitious mother (Lori Larsen) who plotted to make him Emperor, his over sexed mistress Poppaea (Susannah Schulman), his gay lover (Kasey Mahaffy), philosophers (Mike McShane and Richard Doyle as Seneca), silly eunuchs, and sensual slaves. These court scenes offer comically lewd action that excites and retains audience interest.

Directed by former artistic director of Berkeley Rep, Sharon Ott, caricatural comic effects are obtained through a relaxed modern day mockery of Nero’s reign that contrasts with the extravagantly decorated sets (Erik Flatmo) and elegant costumes (Paloma H. Young) that portray the ancient formality of his court. The Roman atmosphere is also satirized through the use of contemporary expressions thrown in to provoke laughter, such as Poppaea’s remark to Scribonius when she seduces him:” I work on this body, Buster!” or Nero’s compliment to Scribonius’s talent as a writer: “You could sell sauerkraut to the gods!”

You, Nero plays until June 28 at Berkeley Rep. For information call 510-647-2949 or visit berkeleyrep.org.

Dr.Annette Lust

Three on a Party at Theatre Rhinoceros

In a collaboration between Word for Word Company with Theatre Rhinoceros, an evening of three works representing major 20th century queer writers began with Gertrude Stein’s Miss Furr and Miss Skeene, performed by Joanne Winter and Sheila Balter, about two women taking music lessons who meet circa 1911. They are described by Stein as being “regularly gay” most of the time in order for the author to portray lesbians as being a natural sexual preference and occurrence. Tightly directed by Delia MacDougall, the constant repetition of the words “gay” and “regular,” along with the highly stylized movement and elegant period clothing, render this piece particularly enticing, despite an overuse of the words “gay” and “regular” a la Gertrude Stein that still at times provides comedic effects.

Tennessee Williams’ Two on a Party represents the sexual freedom of the ‘50s in which a lonely lush named Cora and a gay Billy party their way through the days and nights and grow fond of one another. This well crafted story, imaginatively directed by artistic director John Fisher, is powerfully enacted by Joanne Winter as Cora and Ryan Tasker as Billy.

Suddenly Home by Armistead Maupin, also inventively directed by John Fisher, offers a late 20th century view of homosexuals who, through their experience of living together, are capable of imparting wisdom about marriage and commitment. Here Will (Brendan Godfrey) and partner Jamie ( Ryan Tasker) prevent Tess (Sheila Balter) from marrying for the sake of marrying.

Word for Word, just back from performing at the American Library in Paris, continues to stun us with its faithfulness to the literary text.

Three on a Party plays until June7. For info, call-861-5079 or visit www.theRhino.org.

Dr. Annette Lust

Dead Man’s Cell Phone

In the Bay Area Premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Jean (Amy Resnick), picks up a cell phone belonging to a dead man called Gordon (Bill English) that changes her life.  Jean has an instant epiphany that makes her feel connected to Gordon (she learns his name from one of the callers). That connection takes the form of a promise to stay with him as long as he needs her and then wanting to comfort his loved ones and try to make the memory of him live on positively in their minds and hearts. 

Jean’s interactions with Gordon’s haughty mother, Mrs. Gottlieb (Joan Mankin), his widow Hermia (Rachel Klyce), his younger brother Dwight (Jackson Davis) and Gordon’s long-time mistress, Carlotta (Florentina Mocanu) helped Jean piece together the puzzle of what sort of man Gordon was. Her journey is the play’s through-line, but each of the other characters gets a chance to shine.

Director Susi Damilano’s clever direction includes an outstanding cast, starting with Resnick who makes Jean an endlessly eager to please, bottomlessly empathetic woman. Mankin’s Mrs. Gottlieb is hilarious. When we hear from Gordon, speaking from the other side, Bill English makes him both cocky and undeniably charismatic. Rachel Klyce is riotously funny as the thoroughly soused Hermia. Chic and mysterious, Mocanu’s mistress is the anti-Jean. Jackson Davis is the tender Dwight, Jean’s endlessly caring male counterpart. .

Dead Man’s Cell Phone takes us on a journey down a rabbit hole with Jean to explore the meaning of connection in the 21st century.

The play runs at the SF Playhouse through June 13. For tickets, contact 677-9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org

Flora Lynn Isaacson

June 2009

Revival of Pinter’s Homecoming at Off Broadway West

Off Broadway West’s third season in San Francisco offered a challenging production of one of Pinter’s sixties plays. In The Homecoming a dysfunctional family comprised of Max, an elderly tyrannical retired butcher (Graham Cowley), his pimp-like son Lenny (Nick Russell), son Joey training to be a boxer (Conor Hamill), son Teddy, a philosopher (Gregory Daniels), his daughter-in-law Ruth (Sylvia Kratins) unhappily married to Teddy, and Uncle Sam (Randy Hurst), are involved in a struggle to each hold one’s own side by side. When Teddy appears with his mysterious and silent wife Ruth she is taken for a harlot by Max who was never told that Teddy is married. She soon gains the affection of Max and his two other sons, flirting with them with sexual innuendos. Ruth ends up abandoning Lenny to replace Max’s deceased wife Jessie, taking on the role of mother and wife and possibly earn money through her favors to the men Lenny provides.

With a fine cast of actors with impeccable British accents, the play is expertly directed by Joyce Henderson in minimalist style, particularly in Act One where the action is under acted. As in all of Pinter’s plays the dialogue is brief with hidden meaning behind the characters’ words. Comic moments, particularly in Act Two, alleviate the atmosphere of suppressed violence that bring about outbursts, particularly on the part of Max who periodically tears into everyone.

Scott Nordlund’s dingy living room set is cleverly arranged in an intimate space in which the audience is seated in velvet covered armchairs three quarters around the stage and that originally was a meeting hall of the S.F.Alliance Française some fifty years ago.

This ironic portrayal of the inner workings of family life is dynamically presented in Off Broadway West’s highly symbolic, meaningful, and disturbing portrait of the family members attacking one another and attempting to survive emotionally in tight quarters.

The Homecming plays until May 2. For information about the company’s View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller July 2-August 22 , call 510-835-4205 or visit www.offbroadwaywest.org.
Dr. Annette Lust

A Gripping Strindberg’s Miss Julie at the Aurora

Mark Jackson’s direction of Strindberg’s 1888 Miss Julie about male female and class power struggle with characters that are prey to passion and lust has audience members captivated by the high powered action between the flirtatious Miss Julie and her sexually attractive footman Jean under the moral gaze of Christine the cook, Jean’s fiancée.

What is most moving in this tragic and highly emotional drama is Jean’s mounting power over the authoritative Miss Julie who, once she has given in to her sexual impulses, slowly descends through her shame for her action and deception over her servant’s true intentions. The ups and downs in the emotional scale through which Jean progresses from passionate lover to ambitious social climber, dragging along Miss Julie, is dynamically portrayed by Mark Anderson Phillips as Jean and Lauren Grace as Miss Julie, the seductive count’s daughter, under the calm eye of the cook Christine, played by Beth Deitchman.

Mark Jackson’s direction of Miss Julie with multi emotional nuances not only has the actors expressing fully through their physical movement but also through moments of static attitudes, prolonged glances, and silence filled with meaning.

This is one of Aurora’s most puissant productions, an exceptional treat offering outstanding dramatic content, expert direction and acting.
Miss Julie plays through May 10. Clifford Odet’s Awake and Sing plays from August 21 thru September 29. For information call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

“Robot's Revenge” Steals the Show at Fringe of Marin's Program II

"Robot's Revenge--A Relevant Pantomime" by Dr. Annette Lust and directed by Sasha got this critic's vote for most outstanding production. Erica Badgeley also gets my vote for Best Actress as The Robot.  Christine Clemmons was delightful as the Engineer's Wife, Johann Schiffer added able support as the Engineer, and Lauren Rigor interpreted the Company President. Sasha's masterful direction and precise directorial movements are reminiscent of both Morris Panych (ACT-The Overcoat) and Marcel Marceau.

Best Solo Performance in Program II goes to Lucas McClure for his interesting piece, direction and performance in "McBooth" that, besides being entertaining, offered a history lesson about Shakespeare's Scottish play.

"Special," written and directed by Ann Meredith, about five women whose high school math teacher molested them, in their later years are able to reclaim their stolen innocence by speaking the truth. Meredith's play is both disturbing and riveting and gets my vote for Outstanding Ensemble Work with Kathryn Kim, Ida VSW Red, Lynae Ades, Roy Anne Florence and Mandy Omoregie.

In "One Shoe On," a humorous bachelor party by Dr. K. Adour directed by Robin Schild, two of the characters were doctors known by retired physician, Dr. Adour. There were several "in jokes" and Robin Schild made the most of comic bits of business. Outstanding performances were by Rick Roitinger as Steve and Byron Lambie as Harvey, a zoologist.  The lead character, David Rouda, was cleverly directed in a pratfall, getting tangled up in the cord of the phone. "One Shoe On" was well paced with a surprise ending. 

Stanton Close’s comedy "Darcy's Sex Scene," directed by Nina Lescher, is based on a clever intrigue- in which a women's writing group meets and Darcy (Jill Cagan) presents her story to the group.  Two actors downstage, Jonathan Vittum and Pami Malinova, comically pantomime what Darcy is reading to the group.  Darcy is at times inaudible and the acting of Sara James, Gretchen Olivero and Gretchen Lee Salter is uneven. 

"Plutarch's Lives, A Darkish Autobiographical Comedy," written and performed by Donna Budd and directed by Christine McHugh, takes us to the heroine's hometown in North Carolina. Although Donna's perfect dialect was hard to understand due to soft projection, she had a sly sense of humor and an intelligent script, expressive eyes and gestures.

Opening night of Program II, Saturday, April 18, 2009 played to an enthusiastic sold out house with standing room only. The Fringe of Marin Festival offers stimulating and entertaining theatre that discovers fresh voices and brings in the community to participate as either artist or spectator.

The Fringe plays through May 3, 2009. Performances are Fridays-Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. at Meadowlands Assembly Hall, Dominican University, San Rafael,CA.  For information, call 415-673-3131. Flora Lynn Isaacson

Bloody Violence Over a Cat at the Rep

If you enjoy violence-especially bloody violence-check out Martin McDonagh’s Lieutenant of

Inishmore directed by Les Waters at Berkeley Rep. From the opening of Act One we witness a dead cat with a bloody severed head supposedly run over by Davey (Adam Farabee) who brings the cat home to the older Donny (strongly played by James Carpenter) claiming she/he (difficult to know which sex because the character has hair and body like a girl and voice like a boy) did not run over the cat with her/his bicycle but only picked it up. In the next scene we see the owner of the cat, Padriac (Blake Ellis) torturing a drug dealer hanging upside down by cutting off his toes. After Padriac calls his father Donny to ask if all is well including his beloved cat and is told his cat is recovering, he dashes home. At one point he encounters young IRA fighter Mairead who becomes enamored of him. After he reaches home to discover his cat has been replaced by a red one covered with black shoe polish he prepares to shoot both his father and Davey. The intrigue becomes even more bloody when three IRA fighters appear to shoot Padriac for having splintered from the original IRA. After Padriac along with Mairead shoot the three members which brings for the the truth about how his cat died, there is still more blood spattered about when Padriac orders his father and Davey to cut up the three members’ bodies. And when Mairead finds her red cat had been killed by Padriac more shooting occurs.Finally as Donny looks up to see Padriac’s cat emerge from a corner of the ceiling the audience is shaking even harder with laughter over this bloody intrigue of mistaken identity.

It is no wonder that McDonagh’s play was not accepted for production until 2001, five years after he wrote it due to the controversial subject matter and raw content. If one can view the play with a detached sense of humor and not take the farcical exaggerated use of blood curdling violence seriously but accept it as a good theatrical device, this dynamically staged and acted play can be hilariously funny. In fact it is reminiscent of the crude shocking buffoonery found in the Commedia dell’ Arte, one of the most vital dramatic forms found throughout Western Theatre.

The Lieutenant plays until May 17 at Berkeley’s Roda Theatre. For info call 510=647-2949 or 888 4-BRT-tix (toll-free) or visit berkeleyrep.org.

Lunatique Fantastique’s Lyrical and Heart Wrenching Found Object Puppetry

Liebe Wetzel’s revival of her piece Executive Order 9066, about the incarceration of the West Coast Japanese and Japanese Americans in camps in the Utah desert after the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing with puppets created with found objects, is a heart wrenching creation. Similar to St. Exupéry’s Little Prince, it is meaningful, entertaining and appeals to all ages.

In her reworking of Executive Order 9066, Wetzel has refined the movement expression that renders it more emotionally moving. Here she extracts from the dramatic conflict moments of even deeper intimate feelings on the part of the Mother (comprised of an upside down teapot for her head and a piece of cloth for her gown and body) and her two sons (with two teacups for heads and cloths for their clothing and bodies) who are torn from their home and ordered to an internment camp. After they are given number tags to wear, we move to a scene in which the young boys clown around as they push a heavy suitcase toward the camp. Our hearts come to a standstill when as they face their sad destiny in the camp the boys, still fighting and playing with one another like young kids, are separated when one is drafted to fight for the Americans in the war.

In a following scene the son is killed on the battlefield. After their suitcase returns home, the executive order number tags are placed standing up in the sand to represent the graves of the dead soldiers. Once they reach home the souvenirs of the Mother’s loss of her son and their unhappy experience living in the camp is depicted through her refusal to reopen the suitcase. After the mother passes away her only son hangs on his Mother’s favorite little tree the executive order tags that turn into multiple white cotton blossoms.

The happy family life of the mother and her boys in which she teaches her children not to fight with one another and to stand up courageously against such adversity as their deportation to the camp are enacted with movement that is so subtlety and emotionally interpreted that one can not only see but also hear the characters breathing in highly dramatic moments. This is evident is such scenes as the Mother and boys’ catching their breath with terror as they read the Executive Order official notice to move into a camp or when one of the sons leaves to fight the Japanese in the American army.

Written by LiebeWetzel and Christine Young with Object Animation by Liebe Wetzel and music by Shinji Eshima, the six animator puppeteers responsible for this highly nuanced staging of the destruction of a family within a background of war performed by object puppets are Jen Colasuonno, Sheila Devitt, Anna Fitzgerald, Susie Gaskill. Benjamin Turner, and Patricia Tyler.

Liebe Wetzel’s object puppetry has reached an even higher level of lyrical and imaginative puppetry and dramatic symbolism with this recent revival of Executive Order 9066.

For information about future Lunatiqe Fantastique Productions visit www.themarsh.org Dr. Annette Lust

May 2009

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