Monthly Archives: March 2016

‘4000 Miles’ is Worth the Journey

Review of 4000 Miles
By Amy Herzog
Directed by Norman A. Hall
For tickets / schedule :
NTC Playhouse, Novato, CA
Novato Theater Company

RUN: March 25 – April 17, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(March 25, 2016)

4000 Miles Novato Theater Company

Photo by Kim Bromley

Premiering in 2011, this is a recent play from Amy Herzog, and is inspired by her family. Long distance bike trips and hiking have become the rage among athletic young people, carrying with them sets of evolving traditions, such as dipping tires in the ocean or taking shadow pictures, as referenced by Leo (Jesse Lumb). Tragedy strikes his journey with Mika, who is killed in an accident. Lost and stricken with sorrow, Leo drifts toward his opinionated grandmother, Vera (Shirley Nilsen Hall). An unlikely friendship ensues, punctuated by Leo’s half-attempted quests for love.

Shirley Nilsen Hall as Vera embodies the physicality of being elderly. Her trembling efforts to fold laundry or open a locked door are heart-breaking, showing both her determination to keep living to the fullest and the insensitivity of the younger generation to step in and help. Leo lounges on the couch while she fumbles and drops the keys, unwilling to take a few steps to open the door for her. Undaunted, she is ready to both challenge and support him to the best of her ability. Ultimately the story is about the close bonds of family, no matter how different they are from each other. Jesse Lumb as Leo has an ease about him, covering pent up bursts of anger that are misplaced expressions of sorrow over Mika’s loss. His midnight reminiscence of Mika’s death is quietly moving, punctuated by well timed dark humor.

Fred Deneau

Photo by Fred Deneau

On-and-off girlfriend Bec (Emily Radosevich) fights between her attraction to Leo and a practicality that they do not work well together. After a passionate series of debates, the two part amicably, perhaps wondering what could have been. Representative of an odd sub-plot, Amanda (Courtney Yuen) enthusiastically bounces into the story, giving Leo the push he needed to move on with his life, stepping in as a sort of sister figure.

The language of 4000 Miles is conversational and natural; it could be heard in a living room rather than a theatre. Characters are brutal and loving to each other, often self-absorbed and realistic. Unfortunately the denouement is not satisfactory; it is too neatly packaged and convenient for a play about messy lives. At the same time it is comforting to have a hopeful ending for characters who have suffered.

Journey with a young person struggling to find meaning and his place in life, helped along by the family’s matriarch who has already discovered her confidence. 4000 Miles is a comforting coming of age story about the importance of family, even if they can be irritating at times. It is well researched with high production values and a stellar cast.

‘Outside Mullingar’ in Sebastopol

Review of Outside Mullingar
By John Patrick Shanley
Directed by David Lear
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: March 18 – April 3, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(March 18, 2016)

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Outside Mullingar premiered in 2014 and is set in an agricultural town in Westmeath, Ireland. A lush area of lakes and farms, it is often washed with rain, reflected in the play with sound design by Albert Casselhoff and an abundance of wellies. Weather is a luminescent thread throughout the play, reflecting character moods, adding misery to their struggles and joy to lighter moments. Two rival farms are adjacent to each other, one cut off from the road thanks to a long-standing feud, but despite these differences, the families are still close.

The younger generation questions whether the hard work of farming is worth the effort, or if it is time to leave it all behind, while the older characters grow bitter at their lives slipping away and strive to find hope in a bleak future. In an age when many fear death or speak of it in reverent tones, Outside Mullingar accepts it and is unafraid to discuss the ramifications. As Marcus Aurelius suggests, “death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.” Elly Lichenstein as the elderly Aoife audibly creaks her way through grief with enough Irish fire to hold her own when questioned. Riposting her barbs is Clark Miller as crotchety Tony, a farmer who is ready to leave his life, but wants to drag everyone else down with him.

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Photo by Eric Chazankin

At the play’s heart is the eccentric Rosemary (Sharia Pierce) a dreamer who longs to be a swan, and refuses to give up on her childhood crush, willing to wait years for him to realize she is right next door. Loneliness has turned her passionate poetry to angry jabs at the recipient of her affection. Jereme Anglin as Anthony is an oblivious introvert at one with the fields, rather than comfortable inside with people. It takes a rainy day and a lost treasure to bring the two of them together.

While the premise and plot are predictable and at times cliché, reminiscent of The Decoy Bride with David Tennant, the language flows through otherwise awkward scenes. Playwright John Patrick Shanley brings a quirky realism to a classic romantic comedy, and the setting is enjoyable to relax in for a few hours. Outside Mullingar is a quiet evening in Ireland with a dash of romance. I raise a pint of Guinness to an engaging cast and enjoyable production.

‘Wait Until Dark’ at Spreckels

Review of Wait Until Dark
By Frederick Knott
Directed by David L. Yen

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

RUN: March 11 – April 3, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(March 12, 2016)

Wait Until Dark Spreckels

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Frederick Knott’s 1966 play Wait Until Dark was so well received that it was turned into a film starring Audrey Hepburn the next year. Three conmen descend on a blind housewife in the quest for a heroin filled doll, but she discovers their intent and fights back in a desperate bid for survival. The primary antagonist, Harry Roat (Erik Weiss), is introduced with a German accent, reflective of the lingering suspicion of foreigners, particularly from East Germany, during the ’60s, adding a layer of menace to his character.

Rehearsals on the set began earlier in the process than is usual, due to extended scenes in pitch darkness or low light, and for the lead character, Susy Hendrix (Denise Elia-Yen), who is blind and needed to look comfortable in her surroundings. Set designer and decorator Elizabeth Bazzano recreated a typical 1960s home complete with raffia and a vintage ice box.

Chris Schloemp as Mike Talman is sympathetic, trying to get by after time in lockup, and finds himself dragged back into a life of crime to get by in the world. He subtly demonstrates pity for Susy that turns into respect and a genuine wish for her well being. When he tries to confront her, she tells him that he could never hurt her enough to break her resolve, and he softens, admitting she is right. His partner in crime, Carlino (Nicholas Christenson), has adept comedic timing, adding a light touch to otherwise disturbing situations. His continual attempts to wipe off fingerprints are an ongoing gag that leave other characters perplexed and the audience deliciously amused.

Wait Until Dark Spreckels

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Denise Elia-Yen brings depth to Susy, demonstrating steadfast courage in impossible situations, authentic frustration at her condition,  and raw terror when she realizes the danger of her situation. The audience feels her journey, triumphant when she cleverly deduces the plotting of those she trusts, and frightened for her when she claws for survival against the nefarious Harry Roat. Lighting is used to great effect during that sequence, adding to the tension and allowing imagination to run wild with sound as a guide.

Wait Until Dark is a clever adventure that builds to knuckle whitening suspense, relying heavily on the talented cast, rather than special effects to create tension. It is a good old fashioned thriller that is intellectual, rather than using blood and gore for shock value. Wait Until Dark is an exciting evening in an intimate theatre, thanks to director David Yen’s brilliant direction and a gripping story.

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