Monthly Archives: February 2016

‘Kismet’ at Spreckels Performing Arts Center

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Review of Kismet
Book by Charles Lederer & Luther Davis
Music and Lyrics by Robert Wright & George Forrest
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Diego Garcia & Lucas Sherman
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: February 12 – 28, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(February 13, 2016)

Kismet the play premiered in 1911, running for two years in London. The Broadway musical version was popular in the early 1950s, especially the song Stranger in Paradise, which is well known to this day. The original playwright, Edward Knoblock, led an exciting life, serving in the British Secret Service during WWI shortly after penning Kismet. He was born Knoblauch, but anti-German sentiment in the early 1900s caused him to alter it in 1916. Kismet is heavily influenced by ancient fairy tales of the sort found in Andrew Lang’s books, where a trickster uses deception to make his way through life, unexpectedly becoming successful.

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Spreckels’ production has Bollywood sparkling colors filled with sprightly dancing and an enthusiastic cast, but is hindered by ill-fitting costumes and politically charged themes. What was acceptable when Georges Prosper Remi created Middle Eastern illustrations for TinTin filled with black robed fanatics and bumbling officials in bazaars is difficult to swallow for modern audiences considering the current situation in that part of the world. It can be done with careful taste, such as American Ballet Theatre’s Le Corsaire, but the line between farce and insensitivity is narrow, and Kismet may have crossed it. Depiction of women is also concerning in the musical. They are perpetually seen as objects to conquer, and strong active women such as the Ababu Princesses are sneered at. Humor often involves making fun of people, but watching an entire musical denigrating women can become tiresome and is not amusing. What was appropriate in 1911 before women had the vote is not necessarily acceptable in 2016.

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Tim Setzer as Hajj is a powerhouse, inhabiting a dashing middle aged poet with fervor. He oils his way across the stage, convincing or entrancing everyone he meets with dynamic songs. His patron and arch nemesis, the Wazir (Harry Duke), is operatic in his villainous machinations. Carmen Mitchell glows as the lovely kind-hearted Marsinah, her sweet tones mingling well in duets with Jacob Bronson’s Caliph. The lovers are convincing in their immediate infatuation, creating beautiful music together. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade woven into the music was a treat thanks to the in concert orchestra conducted by Diego Garcia.

There are fun moments in Kismet, despite the underlying themes, such as the beggars’ antics and witty one-liners throughout the play. Kismet is old-fashioned glitzy entertainment representative of early musicals, and contains a charming love story. While production values could be improved upon, Spreckels puts on a good show.


‘The Road to Mecca’ in Sebastopol

Review of The Road to Mecca
By Athol Furgard
Directed by Elizabeth Craven
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: February 5 – 21, 2016
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(February 6, 2016)


The Road to Mecca premiered in 1984 at Yale University, giving a vignette of Helen Martins in her final year. Nieu-Bethesda in South Africa was a conservative area during the 1970s, heavily influenced by apartheid. From the tradition bound society, a free-thinking artist emerged, catalyzed by her husband’s death. She created what has become known as The Owl House, surrounded by elongated figures with arms stretched toward the East in a journey to Mecca. Playwright Athol Furgard grew up in South Africa during the apartheid period, and creates a compelling picture in this play.

The Main Stage West set design, by Elizabeth Craven and David Lear, is quintessential Sebastopol, an interior rather like the di Rosa. The actual Owl House is a more elegant English Regency affair with simple lines and squares, only accented with crushed glass. What they have created instead is an atmosphere that feels real to Sonoma County natives, bringing us closer to the wilds of the Karoo. What they have in common is a love of candlelight glistening in Eastern splendor.


Miss Helen (Laura Jorgensen) is facing impending despair; her eyes and physical strength are failing, and worst of all her inspiration has dried up. In a lament I have seen first-hand in elderly artists, she cries out with terror that the images might no longer come, that she has created all she can—darkness is descending for good, snuffing out the spark in her life that no candle can light. The play ends with hope, in a remark by Marius Byleveld (John Craven) that her inner light is brighter than all the candles. Unfortunately, Craven has not entirely learned his lines yet, which breaks the flow of many emotional scenes.

The play depicts a close relationship between two women, both the ups and downs. They support and push each other, alternating between arguments and genuine compassion. Young Elsa Barlow (Ilana Niernberger) arrives after a long car ride in a foul mood, from her own baggage and a disturbing event that happened on her way there. She begs to be left alone for a few minutes upon arrival, an irritation I have felt myself after traveling a long time. Niernberger is engaging in her portrayal of a woman struggling with betrayal and a broken heart by hiding behind logic and list making. Jorgensen’s Miss Helen flounders when trying to make a decision, unable to put her true feelings into words until the end, when she blossoms from flustered hesitation into glorious confidence.

It is an exposition heavy play, but I do not believe it suffers from it. Rather, the detailed analysis augments the world, creating two highly intelligent women who reason and think with each other while trying to make difficult decisions. When the truth of Elsa’s predicament comes out, it is both heart-wrenching and beautiful. The Road to Mecca is an intimate portrait of the love between two women who challenge and draw inspiration from each other. I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to see this South African play from a director who clearly cherishes the material.

Wishes Come True at Sonoma State University

Review of Into the Woods
By Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Marty Pistone
Musical Direction by Lynne Morrow
For tickets / schedule :
Evert B. Person Theatre, Sonoma State University
Department of Theatre Arts & Dance

RUN: February 4 – 14, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(February 5, 2016)

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Into the Woods premiered on Broadway in 1987, and has experienced a recent resurge of popularity due to the 2014 film adaptation. Before being relegated to the nursery during the Victorian era, fairy stories were the realm of adults seeking to understand life through a different lens. Perspectives can change “in the woods” through the power of storytelling. Characters experience real challenges that shake their world, and lash out in violence or through comforting each other; making constant re-evaluations that allow the audience to consider with them.

Wishes are compared to children; they do not always listen, and what is wished for might not be that which is best or truly wanted. Cinderella’s mother tree asks what she truly wants, but it is not until the tree is crushed that Cinderella understands that perhaps an idle wish to go to the ball was not her heart’s desire. Lyrics and music weave through the story—jabbing exchanged barbs, mingling in perfect harmony, or layering each other in shared distress. The orchestra captures the timing and magical quality of the music with alacrity and are a joy to experience.

Setting is crucial to a magical kingdom, and set designer Patrick Szczotka creates a constantly shifting forest scene with touches of jungle quality mixed with traditional triptych presentation of cottages for the openings. He is supported by lighting designer Theo Bridant, whose stunning gradients haunt the backdrop with the intelligence of a character in itself. His work in the Witch’s Last Midnight is thrilling. Allie Evans as the Witch dominates the stage, enthralling any who come near with terrifying sensuality, yet her heart breaks with the loss of her daughter. Evans uses costume designer Carmella Nohai’s cape in sweeping grandeur, adding a dash of color and movement to the neutral toned sets.

Most of the cast are strong singers, particularly Emily Thomason as Cinderella, who has a luminous quality. You can imagine her as a princess stepping out of the animation into flesh and bone. This production opted for a rather cartoonish portrayal of Into the Woods, pushing boundaries of how far to stretch farce while retaining the important messages of the story, evident in the princes. Rather than hiding their licentious personalities under a mask of beauty, they do not bother to hide who they are, expecting the world to love them for the sake of a title.

Natasha Potts - Baker's Wife; Brett Mollard - Baker; and Allie Evans - Witch

Photo by David Papas

Holding the disparate characters together is the Baker (Brett Mollard) and the Baker’s Wife (Natasha Potts). Their struggle to have a family first breaks them apart, then brings them together. Mollard is captivating as his character faces loss and heroism, grumbling through life with cranky tolerance.

While there is room for improvement, such as the directing choices to the ending of Rapunzel’s story, overall this was a successful staging of Into the Woods. It is a complex, difficult piece to create, and SSU’s production pulled out all the stops to accomplish it. For an evening of belly laughs and the challenge of self examination, enter the woods, if you dare. Sonoma State University’s Into the Woods is a vibrant production filled with thrills and high jinks.

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