Monthly Archives: September 2015

‘Treasure Island’ is Better Than Rum

Spreckels Theatre - Treasure Island 2015

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Review of Treasure Island
Adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel by Ken Ludwig
Directed by David L. Yen
For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: September 18 – October 4, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(September 18, 2015)

Treasure Island was originally a adventure story published in serial form from 1881-1882, created by Robert Louis Stevenson on a rainy day doodling a treasure map. The story sparked the pirates we love today, with their “yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”, “Shiver me timbers”, and talking parrots. At its heart, this story is meant to be fun. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation captures that spirit, focusing on the complex relationship between Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver.

I will admit I have gotten tired of the endless adaptations of this story to the screen. Many attempt to be too serious, and become dull, or are silly and come across as frivolous. I came to this play rather dubious, and was pleasantly surprised. Set in the small Spreckels theatre, it felt close up and interactive, rather like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland. There were flying cups, fight sequences and pirates within feet of the audience. Their projection style sets were used to the best effect I have seen—it felt like being on board a ship thanks to moving waves backdrops, Jessica Johnson’s subtle yet effective sound design, and the actors Star Trek bridge reactions to the ship’s movement. The opening scene was mesmerizing; Matthew Witthaus’ performance as the dreaded Captain Flint drew the audience into the world, eager for more.

Spreckels Theatre - Treasure Island 2015

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Dave Crone as the brief but memorable Billy Bones swashbuckled his way through tankards of rum, Chris Schloemp minced and blustered as Squire Trelawney, particularly amusing during the transition between Black Hill Cove and the Bristol docks. Long John Silver (Jon Rathjen) easily slipped into a believable kindly sailor and ruthless pirate, bringing a sense of compassion and humanity to the role. Jeremy Ivory (Jim Hawkins) portrayed the innocent hero dragged along on a roller coaster adventure with alacrity. He is a student at San Domenico, a performing arts oriented school in Sleepy Hollow, San Anselmo.

Spreckels Theatre - Treasure Island 2015

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Costume Designer Pamela Enz and Fight Choreographer David L. Yen brought a colorful Errol Flynn styling to the play. Director David L. Yen continues to impress with an entertaining rendition of the story that is boisterous and fun for the whole family. Whether bringing children to introduce them to Treasure Island or as an adult looking for an entertaining evening, Spreckels’ production will leave everyone smiling. I am considering going a second time myself, this was truly a lively and enjoyable evening.

Shenanigans Galore in ‘Lend me a Tenor’

Lend me a Tenor Raven Theater

clockwise from left: Steve Thorpe, Jonathan Graham, Zack Acevedo

By Ken Ludwig
Directed by Jim DePriest
For tickets / schedule :
Raven Performing Arts Theater, Healdsburg

RUN: September 11-27, 2015
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(September 11, 2015)

Set in 1934, this comical farce features mistaken identity, glory seeking coquettes, operatic mayhem, and reunited love. Ken Ludwig’s play first premiered March 6, 1986 in the West End, moving onto Broadway in 1989 where it won several Tony awards. It was his first Broadway play, leading to a well-known career.

The Raven Players brings a strong ensemble cast, using the simple set design to great advantage for well-timed physical comedy. Rather than attempt to find a message or meaning in the play, they embrace its fluffy, ludicrous nature for a diverting evening. The multiple room comedy is reminiscent of An Ideal Husband, and the characters are just as motivated by greed, power and love. If planning on bringing underage children, note that there is mild language and sexual innuendos in the play.

Lend me a Tenor Raven Theatre

Jonathan Graham, Amy Lovato

Christine Calson dominates the stage in her portrayal of wronged Italian diva Maria. Although not consistent, Steve Thorpe as Tito the Tenor was charming. Steven David Martin (Saunders) took a scene to warm up to his role, but by scene two he was fully integrated and hilarious to watch bumble about. This production is very much about the cast as a whole, rather than individual actors who shine; together they created an amusing staging of the play. Holly Werner’s costumes were lovely sweeping gowns and crisp suits, reflecting the period setting and giving a visual hook into the play’s world.

Lend Me a Tenor is an entertaining, fun evening in the wine country, with a delightful cast. It is the perfect play to relax and enjoy after a long day.

Tudor Propaganda at its Best – Marin Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert Currier
For tickets / schedule :
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California

RUN: September 5-27, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(September 5, 2015)

Richard Anne RichardIIIIMG_5049

Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Aidan O’Reilly) reveals to Anne, widow of Prince Edward of Lancaster (Livia Demarchi) that he murdered her husband, then challenges Anne to become his wife. Photo by Lori A. Cheung

Richard III proves that well-written propaganda can become a form of art. Shakespeare plays loose and fast with history, vilifying Richard to glorify the union of Lancaster and York, which founded the Tudor dynasty. He was not the only one to create lore around that marriage; the white rose and red were also introduced post-war. While York did have a white rose among their many badges, the red rose was not a prevalent symbol of Lancaster, it was introduced in the late 15th century, possibly by the court poet, Stephen Hawes. Marin Shakespeare’s attention to badges detail is to be commended; Richard appears with his famous boar symbol, which was so popular in the time period that his retainers wore it as a hat-badge, similar to Margaret of Anjou’s pearl swans.

Shakespeare gives himself license to create a “plain-dealing villain”, who oozes his way across the stage, egging on strife, murdering innocents, and culminating in a powerful scene with Queen Elizabeth (Elena Wright) seeking to woo her daughter by force. Aidan O’Reilly’s performance as Richard finds the perfect balance between believable malice and a touch of humor, which renders the character compelling and deliciously enjoyable. Despite the violent subject matter, director Robert Currier has added a light touch to the play, augmenting the comedy of murder scenes, and adding brilliant transitions with Richard’s secret service guards, complete with shades and earpieces.

Abra Berman’s costume design is unique, bridging the Medieval setting of the play with modern times. The male characters strut about in crisp suits or military uniforms, while the women lilt in flowing gowns from the mid 14th century. It creates a visual feast, grounding the play in two centuries simultaneously. Richard’s followers are presented as a police state, similar to Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011), emphasizing the king’s military strength.

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After killing her two sons, Richard III (Aidan O’Reilly) insists that Queen Elizabeth (Elena Wright) arrange for him to marry her daughter. Photo by Lori A. Cheung

The Battle of Bosworth fight choreography is in slow motion, giving it a cinematic feel that I enjoyed. Shakespeare does not worry about presenting the actual tactics, other than mentioning the marshlands in passing, and the fact Richard’s forces were more formidable. He did bring up Stanley’s men, who lay to the upper flank, undecided as to which side they would favor until ultimately betraying their king. Most historians agree that the fatal error of Richard was going personally to attack with the cavalry to cut off Henry’s access to Stanley. This created the cry of the play “my kingdom for a horse” when Richard found himself on foot in the midst of a cavalry battle. From examining the bones recently uncovered, it appears he lost his helm as well, sustaining multiple blows to the skull. Fight Director Richard Pallaziol opted for an exciting theatrical depiction of Richard’s death, rather than an accurate one, which raised many a cheer from the audience at such a wicked character’s demise.

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Following a night of ghostly visits by those slain in Richard’s quest for power, Richard III (Aidan O’Reilly) and Lancastrian heir, Richmond (Jackson Currier) meet in battle. Photo by Lori A. Cheung

Robert Currier’s direction brought out the stunning poetry of the play in timing and emphasis. I was struck by the Anglo-Saxon influences. “Where is thy husband now? Where be thy brothers? Where are thy children? Wherein dost thou, joy?” (Act IV Scene 4) is similar to The Wanderer’s style “Where is the horse? Where is the rider? Where is the giver of treasure? Where are the seats at the feast? Where are the revels in the hall?”

Marin Shakespeare’s Richard III features a stellar cast, engaging production and beautiful poetry. I would highly recommend it as an entertaining evening of villainy, corruption and the triumph of virtue, with more deaths than a season of Game of Thrones. Whether you support the red rose or the white, Forest Meadows is the place to be for fabulous theatre.