‘Tempestuous’ Imaginative Shakespeare Mashup

Review of Tempestuous
By Merlyn Q. Sell
Directed by Beulah Vega
For tickets / schedule :
www.pegasustheater.com
Pegasus Theater Company
Riverkeeper Stewardship Park, Guerneville

RUN: June 9 – 25, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(June 17, 2017)

Pegasus Theater Company - Tempestuous

Photo by Anna Narbutovskih

A sleepy, rundown riverside resort is turned upside-down by the accidental release of local fairies from Oberon’s court. Playwright Merlyn Q. Sell deftly balances modern characters, wandering through on their cell phones, with a closet sorceress who is fond of crossword puzzles, hippie inspired Ariel munching on cheese snacks, and eerily cruel other-worldly tricksters.

The underlying sense of magic in the play is hinted at from the first scene, as Cal saunters in overtly wearing a Dumbledore’s Army t-shirt. Weaving in and out are discussions regarding the nature of magic and its interaction with humans and fairy kind, touching on the idea that there is something missing from both that can only be found when working together without ulterior motive. Although it borrows heavily from William Shakespeare’s plays, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Coriolanus, the story is entirely of Sell’s devising, and extremely clever; it twists and turns with philosophical musings and its emphasis on the importance of family is oddly comforting.

Olivia Rooney (Andy) always delights with her nuanced expressions and vivacious personality. In this role, she struggles with classic millennial frustrations—after graduating school and working hard to make ends meet, her dreams are crushed, and she returns home, defeated and desperate for something to give her a reason to get up in the morning and continue the fight. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Cal (Conor O’Shaughnessy) who accepts his lot in life and makes the best of it, not wanting excitement to upset that equilibrium. His choices throughout the story, leading to a difficult, but necessary decision at the end, are steady and logical, saving the world from being overrun by wild sorcery.

Pegasus Theater Company - Tempestuous

Photo by Anna Narbutovskih

Nick Christenson’s bumbling, scatterbrained Ariel retains childlike enthusiasm and wonder, which is maddening and endearing simultaneously. Straight talking Roxie (Jana Molina) and Toni (Alexis Evon) are the sort of strong female characters I appreciate seeing on stage. Although his portrayal is rather over-the-top, Paul Menconi’s Professor has a dramatic presence, and as the evening progressed, he loosened up and become more comfortable inhabiting his character. The two nefarious fairies, Triniculo (Noel Yates) and Stefano (Rusty Thompson) oil their way through the action with vile elegance and poise, turning invisible when it suits them.

There is almost no need for a set, because the play was commissioned with the miniature stage beside Russian River in mind, and its dancing boughs of trees from surrounding groves are often referenced, becoming characters in their own right. While the cast needs more rehearsal time to work through kinks in timing and dropped lines, they bring the story to life, and the patchwork of contemporary slang with Shakespearean language I find to be highly entertaining. Tempestuous is a warmhearted, magical play set in the natural beauty of Guerneville’s Riverkeeper Stewardship Park.

A note if you plan to attend: Walk down behind Sonoma Nesting Company where the bridge begins, do not cross the bridge, but continue straight to the other side of the road and look for tall banners marking the trail entrance. Follow the brief meandering riverside trail until you reach the box office in a circular paved area. Cushioned seating is provided, but bring extra blankets or pillows if you like for a more comfortable experience.

Entrancing Journey in ‘Becky’s New Car’

Becky's New Car - Sonoma Arts Live

Photo by Miller Oberlin

Review of Becky’s New Car
Written by Steven Dietz
Directed by Carl Jordan
Sonoma Arts Live
For tickets / schedule :
www.sonomaartslive.org
Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma

RUN: June 9-25, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(June 18, 2017)

Complacency and lack of self-awareness lead to questionable but highly entertaining decisions as Becky attempts to recapture the lost passion in her life. Struggling with a stressful, unfulfilling job, apathetic son, and dull existence, she reaches for the first life-line flung her way—a rich, successful widower who confuses her for an available, intriguing woman who can cure his loneliness. Rather than correct his assumption that her husband passed away, she plays along, tired of being the one constantly giving to others without receiving support in return.

The situation quickly spirals out of control, leading to deliciously awkward exchanges, and although it is not a fairytale ending, Becky is forced to truly examine herself, revitalizing the spark of self-confidence, and ultimately deepening more relationships than she breaks.

Not often performed on the West Coast, playwright Steven Dietz is a master of agile dialogue and duplicitous, yet lovable characters. The fourth wall is non-existent in this play; Becky invites the audience into her home, complete with toilet paper, asking to collate documents, and direct appeals for fashion advice. The collaboration between Bruce Lackovic’s set design and Frank Sarubbi’s lighting creates a fantastical mixture of locations, including projections of high speed chases on an imaginative backdrop of bubbles.

Becky's New Car - Sonoma Arts Live

Photo by Miller Oberlin

Melissa Claire is bewitching as Becky Foster, capturing a burned out middle-aged woman who has a spark of vitality fighting to break through and turn her into the vivacious younger version of herself who was daring and romantic. With rich lines dropping hilarious and wise observations on life, she inhabits the character in an irresistible performance. Matt Witthaus as her down-to-earth, practical husband is a solid foil for her antics, and demonstrates a strength of character that is admirable, while retaining his sense of fun.

The elegant and bewildered Walter Flood (Mike Pavone) does not realize what is going on, remaining aloof to the main action of the play, whereas his daughter, Kensington Flood (Katie Kelley) dives right in, manicured nails and all. Her attempts to find someone real who cares for her without reference to money or background form a parallel love story, with an ending just as thoughtful.

Carl Jordan’s direction takes advantage of the intimate vintage theater to draw the audience into the story, while fine tuning comedic timing in rapid fire exchanges. Becky’s New Car is a sizzling comedy, and not because of the hot weather we’ve been having in Sonoma County. The cast is on fire, with a high caliber play and talented artistic team. Sonoma Arts Live is the place to be for the enchanting Becky’s New Car.

Unlikely Friendship Blossoms in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’

Review of The Legend of Georgia McBride
By Matthew Lopez
Directed by Kent Gash

For tickets & schedule:
www.marintheatre.org
Marin Theatre Company
Mill Valley, CA

RUN: June 8 – July 2, 2017   Extended through July 9!
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(June 14, 2017)

Marin Theatre Company - The Legend of Georgia McBride

Photo by Kevin Berne

Amid the glamour and show stopping montages of dynamic drag queens shimmering with personality is the story of a young man floundering to discover himself and finding an understanding mentor in the least likely place imaginable. What begins as Miss Tracy Mills feeling pity for the washed out Elvis impersonator she is replacing becomes a strong friendship that is a joy to watch unfold. The Legend of Georgia McBride is filled with compassion and hope that with the support of a community, dreams can come true and life will turn itself around to be something worth fighting for.

Casey (Adam Magill) accidentally finds himself onstage as a queen in a “show must go on” situation, with a gloriously awkward first attempt, tottering in high heels and barely managing to lip sync. His affection for the persona of Georgia McBride fights with his identity as a straight soon to be father, causing havoc in his relationship with Jo (Tatiana Wechler), his wife. Wechler portrays a no-nonsense, practical woman deeply in love with her husband, and the two of them have heartwarming scenes together, particularly in the final act.

Marin Theatre Company - The Legend of Georgia McBride

Photo by Kevin Berne

Kraig Swartz as mature drag queen Miss Tracy Mills is a natural—perfectly comfortable in heels, wigs and skirts. It takes hours before each performance for the transformation, and it is worth it; from the moment Miss Tracy Mills appears, in an elegant gown with vintage bob of a hairpiece and kind, warm demeanor, she is sensational. Diva in every sense of the word, Rexy (Jason Kapoor) is the over-the-top sort of queen, relishing her “shades” and obnoxiously arrogant, until a lapse into vulnerability reveals complexity beneath the hard exterior.

While Casey’s gradual transformation through practice and talent is an ongoing theme, the club owner Eddie (John R. Lewis) is perhaps the most dramatic shift in character. Suspicious of drag queen culture, he is not interested in participating, until he observes the positive impact it is having on his business. By the end of the play, he is donning flashing light-up glasses and twirling his way into the spotlight, excited to be part of the team.

Marin Theatre Company - The Legend of Georgia McBride

Photo by Kevin Berne

Lighting designer Kurt Landisman had way too much fun with this production—from starry night fields surrounding a glittering disco ball to pulsing colors bouncing off the silver waterfall backdrop, he unleashes a party atmosphere that is infectious. The audience is encouraged to interact during the drag performances—go ahead and shout, applaud, and react as if it is an actual club, rather than a theater. The script has leeway for a remarkable amount of creative freedom, and the team at Marin Theatre Company went all out with music and lightning fast costume changes thanks to designer Kara Harmon. Standouts were “I Will Survive” and “Born This Way” in runway style.

The Legend of Georgia McBride is a tinsel draped coming of age spectacular that celebrates acceptance and being true to yourself, even if it is not the person you wanted to be. The cast is genuinely enjoying the show, creating a confident, positive atmosphere. For a transfusion of creative enthusiasm, drive to Mill Valley for this one-of-a-kind theatrical experience.

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