Monthly Archives: May 2016

‘My Fair Lady’ at 6th Street Playhouse

Review of My Fair Lady
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Composed by Frederick Loewe
Based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Craig A. Miller
Music Direction by Nathen Riebli
Choreography by Joseph Favalora
6th Street Playhouse
For tickets / schedule :
www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa

RUN: May 6 – June 5, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(May 13, 2016)

my fair lady 6th street

My Fair Lady is an enduring musical with glorious music, and a tongue-in-cheek examination of gender and societal roles. Exaggerated in the opening scene, the difference between Eliza’s class and the opera audience is striking, yet within a few months, Eliza is able to fit in with them through extensive training. It calls into question how important class distinctions are, and whether education is a possible solution. At its heart, My Fair Lady is a love story, whether it is Freddy’s puppy-like obsession, Eliza’s realization that she cherishes being with the professor, for all his faults, or a possible underlying relationship between “confirmed bachelors” Colonel Pickering and Henry Higgins.

Superb stage direction from Craig A. Miller keeps background characters engaged in delightful antics or stiff gentility, as the scene calls for. The supporting cast is marvelous, such as Jon Rathjen as Professor Zoltan Kap or Shirley Nilsen Hall as Mrs. Higgins, who delivers verbal barbs reminiscent of Dame Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. Joseph Favalora’s choreography has a touch of physical comedy to it which shines in the servants’ flustered twirling during I Could have Danced All Night and cavorting in Get Me to the Church on Time. Scenic designer Jesse Dreikosen’s sets are simple and functional, augmented by props that are used to great effect in the jug band style With a Little Bit of Luck. The staging of Show Me is the best I have seen—Eliza tosses poems at Freddy’s (Brett Mollard) head while he tries to write more, dodging her caresses. Kit Grimm’s Colonel Pickering stole many a moment with subtle comedic expressions and timing. He can turn adjusting a pillow into a hilarious commentary on the other characters. Storming the gin joints of London, Norman Hall as Alfred P. Doolittle and his cronies are as lovable as they are disreputable.

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The backbone of a musical is its orchestra, and unfortunately violinist Linda Welter is not up to the task. Laboring under what Henry Higgins might call a sound “painful to your ears” the string heavy overture and Embassy Waltz were difficult to endure. Fortunately, this is not a problem when drowned out by the strong singing of the cast, which is the majority of the production.

I grew up listening to the original Broadway cast recording of My Fair Lady, and watching the film religiously; David Yen as Henry Higgins is the equal of Sir Rex Harrison. His I’m an Ordinary Man alone is worth attending this production to see. He is slightly softer in his portrayal, giving insight into the professor’s vulnerable moments under the prickly façade. The final moment when he realizes Eliza has decided to come back is heart-wrenching. Denise Elia-Yen as Eliza Doolittle is sweet-natured with a foundation of courage that flares out when she needs it. The Ascot scene when she describes her father and the gin is hilarious, leaving Freddy and the audience snickering with genuine amusement. Costume designer Tracy Hinman’s Ascot hats and gowns do not disappoint, presenting a stately tableaux.

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Despite a weak orchestra, My Fair Lady is buoyed up by its talented cast and effective staging. Husband and wife team Denise Elia-Yen and David Yen are a force to be reckoned with, dueling with finesse and enthusiasm. Do not miss Eliza and Professor Higgins at 6th Street Playhouse, as together they learn there is more to life than speaking correctly. While it is not a perfect production, it is a lively and an enjoyable way to spend an evening.

If you arrive early, be sure to visit the new gallery show at The Studio next door, I was drawn to Susan Barri’s Equine Aerobics, Stan Saloman’s photography, and Peter Turk’s clockwork art pieces that reminded me of Gallifrey in Doctor Who.

‘Venus in Fur’ at the Belrose

REVIEW OF VENUS IN FUR
By David Ives
Directed by Carl Jordan
Produced by Gary Gonser
Marin Onstage
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: May 6-21, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(May 7, 2016)

Photo by Gary Gonser

Photo by Gary Gonser

Cloaked in sensuality, Venus in Fur explores the power dynamics between the sexes in a fluid give and take. An aspiring actress arrives to audition for a burned out director ready to go home, and a tug-of-war in dominance ignites, leaving the stage crackling with unspoken desires. The play premiered on Broadway in 2011, and evokes Classical tragedies, using the influence of primal gods such as Aphrodite in understanding human experience. Marin Onstage’s Venus in Fur is captivating with a dash of erotic humor, wrapping the audience in an expanding web, eager for more.

Melissa Claire as Vanda Jordan / Vanda von Dunayev sparkles with mystery and bravado blended into a riveting combination as she effortlessly sways between characters. Her transformation from ditsy chorus girl to an intelligent critic who tears apart the message of the play leads to a provocative denouement. Tyler McKenna as Thomas Novachek / Severin von Kushemski grounds the world as an ordinary man who finds his life peeled back before his eyes, powerless to resist it. They are expertly directed by Carl Jordan, who uses the intimate Belrose Theatre to advantage.

A powerful one act production, Venus in Fur demonstrates that dominance is a matter of perspective. In the audition, Vanda von Dunayev takes control of a scene, while Vanda Jordan is informed “It’s also an audition to see if you can take direction. Now stand there.” She turns the tables when the playwright loses his temper, demanding an apology, which he is forced to make out of courtesy. It is fascinating to watch the interchanges shifting back and forth like a dance. Venus in Fur is a sexy, intriguing evening, delving into the depths of what it means to be a man and woman.

‘Hamlet’ at Sonoma State University

Review of Hamlet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Paul Draper
For tickets / schedule :
www.sonoma.edu
Sonoma State University, Evert B. Person Theatre, Rohnert Park

RUN: May 3-8, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(May 6, 2016)

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Depression gorges itself on the young prince of Denmark, when a glimmer of hope is offered. Craving a reason to live, he finds it in the consuming mission to fulfill his father’s need for revenge. Shakespeare expertly interplays gained purpose with its loss. Ophelia finds herself adrift, unable to clasp an anchor to hold her in the world, while Hamlet embraces his deadly commission. The desperate search for meaning grants and destroys life, leaving no character unchanged. Sonoma State’s production is a loose contemporary setting with echoes of the 1960s. Stark yet poignant set design by Mikiko Uesugi is augmented by Michael Ackley’s subtle lighting and the finest sound design I have experienced in a Shakespeare play (Jesse Olsen Bay).

Hamlet opens to an atmospheric, wind-swept atmosphere of drifting fog, setting the tone for a grounded, energetic staging. The mix of modern themes and attitude with traditional melodramatic presentation is somewhat jarring, creating a muddied result. There is a lack of cohesive emphasis—the effect is a mix of comedic and intense, such as the confrontation between Hamlet (Matt Lindberg) and his mother (Lyla Elmassian) which moved between both. Matt Lindberg carried the role with poise and flashes of brilliance, but delivered in a monotone manner, occasionally slurring the elocution. Régine Danaé’s Ophelia conveys a wide range of emotion despite her few lines; her madness flitting through horrified bystanders akin to the notable scene from Giselle.

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Photo by David Papas

Rosemarie Kingfisher as a gravedigger is a delightful surprise, and easily became the highlight of the second act. Her cheerful, yet deadpan delivery foils well with Hamlet. Many of the characters had a gender recasting, which is effective in creating memorable roles for women in a play where they are relegated to plot point and hapless symbol. From the strong, yet calculating Polonius (Reneé Hardin) to passionate swordswoman Laertes (Deanna Maher) the Danish court is diverse and personable to a modern audience.

Sonoma State’s Hamlet is solid, with fetching production design. While not entirely consistent in its presentation, it is an entertaining evening, and I applaud the students’ efforts on the longest play in Shakespeare’s canon. It raises difficult questions to ponder—are we alive simply because we fear death, is there a purpose worth dedicating everything to, and how honest should we be to that mission while risking our relationships? The end is far from silent.

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