Yearly Archives: 2015

‘The Hummingbird Wars’ by Sonoma State University

REVIEW OF THE HUMMINGBIRD WARS
By Carter Lewis
Directed by Judy Navas
Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Ives Hall, Studio 76

RUN: November 5-15, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

November 6, 2015

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Hummingbirds are in constant danger of starvation, always looking for their next meal to stay alive. This play delves into the state of society in America today—a place where young people working two jobs cannot afford a studio apartment, and when faced with a life-threatening illness the terrifying part is inevitable financial crisis, not the illness itself. The cost of needed prescription drugs is horrifying, even with insurance, and nearly 42% of bankruptcies are a result of medical expenses. Living is a struggle to survive, but there is no tangible enemy to fight but ourselves. The system is so firmly in place that we dissolve within it, incapable of changing our fate. The Hummingbird Wars examines the reactions of a small family.

The father (David O’Connell) is not fully present, pulled down by PTSD, spending hours standing outside the house looking in the window—physically there but miles away. His son is clever, but tormented at school, degraded by standardized education. Portrayed to brilliant effect by Carlos Rodriguez, the teenager acts out despite having a good heart. His sister Kate (Rosemarie Kingfisher) begins full of hope and love, but is slowly beaten down by harsh reality, cocooning inside herself and clinging to the arts as a life raft, cutting herself off from the world. In a stunning performance, Renee Hardin as Tracey ricochets in wild mood swings caused by prescriptions for her respiratory illness. In brief lucid moments, she laments the loss of her ability to love.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Liam Robertson’s sound design is another character in the play, from ticking clocks and the microwave to gunshots and bulldozers. The soundscape is masterful and adds a tactile sensation to an already intimate theatre. As the family’s situation degrades, the house follows suit, cracking and flooding until it builds to a spectacular conclusion. This is not a production for the faint of heart, there are guns, blood, and a depressing accuracy to the propounded theories of this country’s current state. The writing is poetic and thought provoking, backed by an excellent cast.

The Hummingbird Wars is well worth a journey into the underbelly of Ives Hall.

 

‘Into the Woods’ in Novato

Review of Into the Woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Kim Bromley
Musical Direction by Andrew Klein and Debra Chambliss
Choreography by Alison Peltz
For tickets / schedule :
www.novatotheatercompany.org
NTC Playhouse, Novato, CA
Novato Theater Company & Theatre-at-Large

RUN: October 23 – November 22, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(October 23, 2015)

Novato Theater Company Into the Woods

Photo by Jon Bretan

A Tony Award winning musical that premiered on Broadway in 1987, Into the Woods was recently adapted to film in 2014. Like Once Upon a Time, the musical is a “what if?” combination of fairy tale characters interacting with each other. It can be enjoyed on a variety of levels, from child-like fun of seeing Cinderella and Rapunzel to deep psychological concerns. The book and lyrics are rich with thought-provoking moments; a person who is nice might not be good, being charming does not mean sincerity. Characters struggle to find their happy endings in Act 1 only to find them destroyed in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Act 2, partly due to their own selfishness. An overall theme of the musical is that after going through nightmares and idealized dreams, perhaps the best place to be is in between.

I grew up with fairy tales like everyone else, but not the Disney ones. I heard the older versions, mostly from Andrew Lang, where characters were rolled down the hill in spiked barrels, toes and fingers were routinely sliced off, and violent endings were the norm. Into the Woods captures the feeling of those tales; the body count is high and Cinderella’s shoes are soaked in blood. The story faces life’s difficulties head on, without sugar coating, like those early tales. Novato Theater Company brings that world into being through David Shirk’s streamlined sets and exquisite costume designs by Janice Deneau and Marie Meier. Attention to detail in this production adds to the ambiance, such as the Steward (Tom Hudgens) giving town crier announcements in place of the usual turn off your cell phones speech.

Novato Theater Company Into the Woods

Photo by Jon Bretan

Music is the primary medium of the story, augmented by strong vocalists in every role. This is a spectacular cast both as a whole and individually embodying their characters. “Stay With Me” is heart-wrenching from Daniela Innocenti Beem (Witch), “On the Steps of the Palace” by Julianne Thompson Bretan (Cinderella) captures the inner turmoil of making a life-changing decision, and Krista Joy Serpa (Little Red Riding Hood) combines comedic skill with sweet singing of an innocent girl trying to find her way. The two princes, Cordell Wesselink (Rapunzel’s Prince) and Anthony Martinez (Cinderella’s Prince) were darkly hilarious in “Agony” and their quests to find love.

Into the Woods considers social responsibility, whether a wish is truly what we want, how to handle sudden loss, what is right and wrong, and discovering who we are as a person through the long tradition of fairy tales. This is a brilliant cast to experience the musical for the first time, or return as an old friend.

Spreckels Shines in ‘The Light in the Piazza’

Review of The Light in the Piazza
Book by Craig Lucas
Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Diego Garcia
Choreography by Michella Snider

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

RUN: October 9 – October 25, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(October 9, 2015)

Based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer, who lived in Italy for five years, the story weaves a vivid tapestry of daily life in Florence. The play was first performed in Seattle, and opened on Broadway in 2005. At its center, the drama focuses on the power of motherly love. Margaret Johnson (Eileen Morris) finds the strength to take control of her own life, which allows her to release control over her daughter’s destiny. The staging of this production gives the feel of Renaissance paintings come to life, with ever-moving tableaux scenes and warm simple scenery by Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano.

Spreckels The Light in the Piazza 2015

Photo by Eric Chazankin

The music has operatic overtones, but I found it to be pretty without substance most of the time, like icing without enough cake. A notable exception was Dividing Day sung by Eileen Morris. Her performance was awe-inspiring and hauntingly beautiful, questioning how the love of her life had slowly slipped away from her. Despite the subject matter, this musical has a frivolity to it, evidenced in Il Mondo Era Vuoto, sung entirely in Italian, with comedic interactions between the Naccarelli men.

Spreckels The Light in the Piazza 2015

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Throughout the play is a dance motif bringing life to Margaret’s changing emotions regarding her marriage. Unfortunately, despite tolerable partnering skills, Hannah Barton, who represents Margaret’s character, is rather distracting. Her extensions have no energy to them, and her feet flop on the end, rather than pointing—an amateur mistake. Had it not been for the dancing, this would have been a much stronger production.

Spreckels The Light in the Piazza 2015

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Jacob Bronson as Fabrizio Naccarelli was believably in love, with an appealing voice that flowed well with the lyrical music. He and Steven Kent Barker as Signor Naccarelli created comic gold in their relationship. Jennifer Mitchell’s angelic voice brought Clara to life with sweet innocence mingled with abrupt petulance caused by her character’s developmental state. Eileen Morris was spectacular in her range; I enjoyed her asides to the audience, breaking the fourth wall to great effect.

The Light in the Piazza is sweet with a dash of melancholy, exploring the challenges of being a wife and mother. Spreckels brings the lush glow of Italy to Rohnert Park with a touching love story and delightful evening.

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