Monthly Archives: November 2015

Family Holiday Musical – ‘Little Women’

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Review of Little Women: The Musical
Book by Allan Knee
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Music by Jason Howland
Directed by Thomas Chapman
Music Direction by Jim Coleman
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: November 27 – December 20, 2015
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(November 27, 2015)

Little Women: The Musical opened on Broadway in 2005, condensing the 600 page novel by Louisa May Alcott into a single evening. Like the character Jo, the original author suffered financial difficulties while growing up and staunchly supported causes she was passionate for. She did not simply write about the Civil War, she lived it, serving as a Union nurse. Despite a dark childhood, she flourished as a writer, and that hope shines through her novels. The story’s core is redemption, forgiveness and finding love through challenging times, one we can take to heart today. It does not shy away from tragedy, but brings the characters through it in a heartfelt manner.

Accompanied by a talented trio, songs range from the haunting Here Alone (Tina Lloyd Meals as Marmee) to the lively Off to Massachusetts (Kailey Hewitt as Beth March), interspersed with the book at key emotional moments. Of particular note is the beautiful duet Some Things are Meant to Be (Rebekah Pearson as Jo, Kailey Hewitt as Beth). The cast has a sweetness together that is perfect for the subject matter.

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Rebekah Pearson as Jo March has a strong stage presence, bringing Jo to life in a unique way. Tariq Aamir Malik (Laurie) has dazzling comedic timing, while retaining the poise of a young gentleman. Beth walks off the pages and into Spreckels in the guise of Kailey Hewitt—a flawless portrayal of her character. Sean O’Brien as Professor Bhaer was rather cold at first, but warmed up by the second act into the kind-hearted man we know from the books.

The costume and hair design and was rather confusing, which distracted from the play. I was not sure if they were wearing 2015 with touches of the 1860s, or attempting 1860s with a strong sense of 2015. Costuming era mashups do work upon occasion, such as in A Knight’s Tale, but only if they are deliberate and consistent. Despite this, I found the evening highly diverting and quite fitting as a holiday production. Phil Shaw and Thomas Chapman’s set design is lovely, recreating a Victorian parlour with elegance and charm.

While not one of Spreckels’ better musicals, it retains the company’s passion for theatre, and is a wonderful play that brings back nostalgia for Alcott enthusiasts and new wonders for those who have not read the books. I recommend it as a fun holiday evening for the whole family, with an enthusiastic cast and excellent story.

 

‘In Love and Warcraft’ – Delightful Social Commentary

REVIEW OF IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT
By Madhuri Shekar
Directed by James Nelson
Custom Made Theatre Co.
For tickets / schedule :
www.custommade.org
Custom Made Theatre, San Francisco

RUN: November 12-December 12, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(November 15, 2015)

Note: The play and this review contain mature content.

Photo by Jay Yamada

Photo by Jay Yamada

Created by the young playwright Madhuri Shekar, In Love and Warcraft is set in a college atmosphere, complete with struggles and insecurities. The story is the journey of a woman who is asexual in a refreshingly unique perspective, which is sadly lacking in modern theatre and literature. Strides have been made depicting characters who are a range of sexual orientations, but not the smaller group who prefer not having sex at all in a relationship as they find it unappealing and uncomfortable. Current cultural standards place a great deal of pressure on asexuals that there is something “wrong” with them, and they should be having sex because it is “normal”. When Evie (Monica Ho) finds herself in a relationship, she is not sure what to tell him, because it takes courage to open up on such a deep level.

Photo by Jay Yamada

Photo by Jay Yamada

The play’s underlying social commentary weaves into online expectations as well; Evie is an avid gamer with friends who are primarily on the internet, similar to Felicia Day’s brilliant web series The Guild. Adding in the layer of an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) dominating Evie’s world and putting her in conflict with her IRL (In Real Life) friends and boyfriend is a realistic depiction of many relationships today. When Raul (Ed Berkeley) gives her an ultimatum, she can only give WoW (World of Warcraft) up for so long before she is sucked back into her online world. Balancing living and the internet is a constant challenge, which not everyone can understand. The play is eerily accurate regarding gamers; I was impressed by the stage direction given for the characters in avatar form to softly bob back and forth like in the game. I was confused by the guild throwing her out for missing a couple of dungeon raids and going on a date, since usually they are understanding of that sort of thing, although in a post-Gamergate world the acceptance of women has shifted. I appreciated the attention to detail from costume designer Brooke Jennings, both in the avatar armor and array of DC Comics and zombie t-shirts.

Photo by Jay Yamada

Photo by Jay Yamada

Monica Ho as Evie embodied the awkward yet vivacious gamer with alacrity, from her enthusiasm in game to genuine pain when Raul betrayed her. Laura Espino portrays Kitty, who is the other side of the coin, bordering on sexual addiction. Ed Berkeley as the boyfriend Raul settles the play firmly in reality, keeping other characters grounded in an endearing way. Of special note is Sal Mattos as four characters, injecting such different personalities into himself that it is easy to believe they were separate actors instead of one. Although technically a comedy, I found the play thought provoking and relevant, thanks to strong performances from the cast.

Geek & Sundry recently interviewed Madhuri Shekar, “I went into this play not with the question of gaming, but really the question of sexuality and young women on college campuses.” In Love and Warcraft tackles the difficult subject in a quirky humorous manner. I would highly recommend this play whether or not you consider yourself part of geek culture. It uses gaming as a means to discuss a more fundamental question, for which I highly applaud the playwright and Custom Made for bringing it to the Bay Area.

An Entertaining Evening of Harold Pinter

REVIEW OF AN EVENING OF HAROLD PINTER
By Harold Pinter
Directed by Ron Nash
Produced by Gary Gonser
Marin Onstage
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: November 6-21, 2015
RATING: Landscape 4 of 5 stars, The Dumb Waiter 3 of 5 stars

(November 7, 2015)

harold-pinter-landscape

Accoladed English playwright Harold Pinter was prolific and beloved from the 1940s until passing away in 2008. Landscape was broadcast on the radio in 1968 and performed on stage a year later. The Dumb Waiter was an earlier play, premiering abroad in 1959 and later brought to London. Pinter was a master of creating a play that is both concrete and abstract simultaneously, open to multiple interpretations. Directing his works is a challenge, and ultimately a personal journey for the director to choose what to emphasize. The audience is an active participant, absorbing what resonates to them. Like attending a Mondrian exhibition, each viewer will have their own interpretation of meaning.

It is a treat to be able to experience these plays, and Marin Onstage put a great deal of effort into their portrayal. Landscape is a series of interwoven monologues, with strong water symbolism of the pond, sea, and distilling recurring throughout. Beth and Duff’s relationship is cut off from each other, they are unwilling to learn about the other beyond a superficial level. Duff (Kit Grimm) craves intimacy, but is not willing to listen to her in order to attain it. His performance captures the mannerisms of the character, and rather than attempt an accent, he gives a more natural performance that works well, and is quite engaging. Beth (Esther Mulligan) reflects on the softness of romance, but does not explain what she wants to her partner. Esther Mulligan’s accent was quite good, and felt realistic, but her eyes were used in rather an exaggerated manner that felt odd in so small a theatre.

harold-pinter-the-dumb-waiter

The Dumb Waiter features two thugs waiting for a job to begin. They are worn down by their chosen occupation and sick of each other’s company, rather like a darker version of the gangsters from Kiss Me Kate. I was impressed by how much of the play was in silence using pure physicality. The opening bit by Gus (Michael Walraven) with his shoe and Ben (GreyWolf) reacting was priceless. Friendships often degrade into these sorts of relationships, where one side is overly outgoing and blissfully unaware of the other’s irritation until it bursts out. In a way, it is a parallel to Landscape, since both duos lack communication. It does not matter whether or not the two parties are actively speaking to each other, what matters is whether they are considering the needs of the other and truly listening. The Dumb Waiter is amusing and thought provoking, but was brought down by attempted accents. Most Americans cannot manage it properly. The constant drop in and out and wild shifts between geographic areas of the UK was intensely distracting. The play would have benefited from dropping the accents altogether and simply giving a genuine performance in natural voice patterns, letting the characters speak for themselves. It was rather jarring in its current state, despite excellent acting overall and a solid play to work with.

Despite problems with the accents, the production is well done, and Landscape is a moving one act exploration of relationships that is worth attending for. It’s melancholy is reversed by the dark frivolity of The Dumb Waiter.

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